A former Environmental Protection Agency regulator warns that while the Obama administration now has coal in its crosshairs, natural gas is next in line.
David Schnare cites a proposed rule on methane emissions as one of the ways President Obama and the EPA will clamp down on natural gas. The 33-year EPA veteran, who once sued utilities for coal-fired plants that didn’t meet Clean Air Act standards, is director of the Center of Energy and Environmental Stewardship at the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.
According to Schnare, as part of its “Clean Power Plan” rule that would largely put coal-fired power plants out of business, the EPA is contemplating forcing natural gas plants to increase their capacity from 46 percent to 70 percent to reduce carbon emissions by working them harder to replace older generation units that emit more carbon dioxide. This would lead to equipment failures as turbines designed for the lower workload could not endure a heavier one. Their carbon dioxide emissions would also be more regulated “at the very limit” of present technology.
“They’ve already started to pursue methane pollution, which the industry has been trying to control for a very long time, because that’s their product. The cost of running the drilling equipment, the pipelines and the plants themselves are being tightened.”
Testifying before a combined hearing of the public utility committees of the Mississippi House and Senate, Schnare, said the EPA would have “blood on its hands.” The rule will cost consumers nationally more than $360 billion and cost more than 60,000 lives.
Even if the Obama administration doesn’t pursue additional measures, besides the regulations on methane and plant efficiency, natural gas prices will increase as more coal plants are replaced or converted to burn natural gas. This will drive natural gas prices skyward and people will begin to see it on their utility bills no matter where they live.
Let’s take a look at New Englanders who got socked last week by a massive snowstorm, but that doesn’t compare to the financial pain electricity customers in the region are suffering through this winter.
Small business owner John York in Salem, New Hampshire, received his electric bill last Friday and was stunned by the fact his bill nearly quadrupled compared to this time last year, going from $675 for January 2014 to $2,432, even though his company’s energy usage had not changed. While York’s case may be dramatic, others in the region are also feeling the pain.
Electricity and heating costs have spiked in the six states stretching from Connecticut to Maine, even though natural gas prices across the country have remained consistently low. Why? New England doesn’t have enough pipeline capacity to service its energy users. Energy for many New England states used to come from a variety of sources, but coal and oil-fired plants have been shut down in recent years, due to Obama’s war on fossil fuels and new EPA regulations.
“We had a nuclear plant in Vermont, Vermont Yankee, that’s retiring, a coal plant in Massachusetts, Salem Harbor, that’s retiring, and with that, it’s basic economics: Fewer plants, less supply to meet demand, and there’s a price response,” Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association, told New England Cable News last fall. As a result of the closures and new regulations, the region went from getting 15% of its energy from natural gas in 2000, to 46% in 2013.
Now with the EPA setting its sights on new regulations for natural gas, New England may wonder how they are going to pay future electric bills.