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New advances may help stop dirty coal

Posted by Barbara Gottlieb on February 20, 2009

Good news is popping on the clean energy front, although the battle is far from won.

1.  The stimulus package signed by President Obama will provide significant federal funding for clean, renewable energy sources and increased energy efficiency.   Investments will include:

  • Energy efficiency, including improvements to federal buildings, low-income housing and the Department of Defense:  $19.5 billion
  • Mass transit and development and purchase of low-emission vehicles:  $17.6 billion
  • "Smart" grid:  $11 billion
  • Renewable energy research and transmission-line construction:  $7.5 billion
  • Training for "green" jobs:  $500 million

Cut from the stimulus package were loan guarantees for the coal industry and the nuclear power industry.  That means taxpayers will not be forced to underwrite loans to energy companies for building plants that endanger our health and our planet.

Instead, our nation will increase energy efficiency and develop clean, healthy and renewable energy sources and leave behind the toxic pollution and global warming caused by coal.

For more detail on how funds will be spent, see a breakdown on Grist.

2.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moved closer to regulating carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.  In response to a petition from environmental groups, the EPA agreed to reconsider a last-minute "midnight memo" by the previous administration which sought to prohibit regulation of coal plant carbon emissions.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a chief greenhouse gas, and coal-fired power plants are responsible for roughly a third of the CO2 emitted in the United States.

The new decision, by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, is consistent with an earlier ruling by the EPA Environmental Appeals Board, which found there was no reason for the Bush administration to refuse to limit carbon emissions from new coal plants.  PSR had submitted an amicus curiae brief on that case, which addressed the proposed Bonanza plant in Utah.

The EPA stated in a press release that it will "vigorously review" the earlier memo and pledged that the review will abide by three core principles outlined by Administrator Jackson: "overwhelming transparency, adherence to the rule of law, and science-based policies and regulations." 

PSR strives to build national policy on the basis of reliable scientific evidence.

3.  We also celebrated a win at the state level earlier this month.  Michigan had faced the daunting task of challenging eight proposed coal-fired plants.  As readers of Code Black Alert! know, in early January two distinguished PSR members joined the battle, placing an op-ed article in the Detroit Free Press, testifying against the air quality permit for one of the proposed plants, and urging Gov. Jennifer Granholm to "Stop the Coal Rush" and place a moratorium on the construction of new coal-fired power plants.

Our voices were heard!  Just a few weeks later, Gov. Granholm, in her annual State of the State address, called for a near-moratorium on new coal-fired plants, a major reduction in reliance on coal for electricity generation over the next decade, and an emphasis on green sources of energy. 

Approval of the eight coal plants now in the pipeline will be delayed at least several months while the state reviews alternatives, and some of those plants will not be built.  Congratulations, Michiganders!

The fight, however, goes on.  I just got back from a PSR conference in Iowa, where the PSR chapter and its allies are locked in a tough fight against a proposed coal plant in a rural and job-poor county.  And we didn't sway utility officials in South Carolina, who voted to approve an air quality permit for the proposed plant on the Pee Dee River.  (Also a rural, job-poor area.  Anybody notice a pattern here?)  So PSR will continue fighting for breathable air, clean water, and a cool, livable planet.

 

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