WASHINGTON -- Representatives of coal-intensive utilities and coal-producing regions said that President Barack Obama would effectively outlaw construction of new power plants using the fuel with pending environmental rules.
The Environmental Protection Agency is revising proposed rules from last year in response to opposition by utilities and mining companies. The new version, under review by White House officials and scheduled for release next week, will be structured differently though it offers little solace to the industry, according to people who have been briefed on the measure and asked not to be identified before its release.
The agency brushed aside a vigorous lobbying campaign by industry and is pushing rules that would require new coal plants to install expensive carbon-capture technology, according to the people briefed on the plans. Alisha Johnson, a spokeswoman for the EPA, declined to comment.
Low-cost natural gas is leading utilities to build new plants using that fuel and shutter coal-fired plants. The effect of the new standard would lock out coal over the long term, said Scott Segal, a lobbyist for utilities.
"Once you set something in stone, you discourage investment in that sector, and you take a flexible market and ossify it," Segal, a lawyer at Bracewell & Giuliani in Washington, said in an interview. "The market price of natural gas can change" but regulations don't, he said.
Carbon-dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution have led to a warming of the Earth's temperature in the past 50 years, worsening forest fires, drought and coastal flooding, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
To deal with the threat, Obama directed the EPA to cap carbon dioxide from power plants, which account for 40 percent of U.S. emissions. The first step is to issue rules for new plants, a proposal set to be released next week. The more contentious rules would govern emissions from existing plants, and those aren't scheduled to be issued until next year. The rules will be the first of their kind.
"The Obama administration has been waging a war on coal and Kentucky jobs ever since the president was elected," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said in an email. "If these reports are accurate, his latest proposal is not only an open war on coal jobs, but on all the residents, jobs, and businesses across the commonwealth that rely on this vital industry."
The practical impact of the rule is likely to be limited. In 2012, the EPA forecast that no utilities would build traditional coal plants over the next eight years.
"The companies themselves are documenting the fact that it is the widespread availability of low-cost natural gas, and to some degree wind power, that is eroding the viability of coal," Megan Ceronsky, an attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund, said in an interview.