Durango Telegraph - Carbon emissions rules could snag Desert Rock
Carbon emissions rules could snag Desert Rock

The Desert Rock Power Plant could be headed back to the drawing board. In a move hailed by conservationists as the “start of the clean energy future,” the EPA has been asked to determine if all new and proposed coal plants should address their carbon dioxide emissions.

This week, the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) ruled the agency has no valid reason for refusing to limit carbon dioxide emissions. The decision followed a 2007 Supreme Court ruling recognizing carbon dioxide – the principle source of global warming – as a pollutant.

The remand power plant near Vernal, Utah, which would have emitted 3.4 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. The Sierra Club went before the Environmental Appeals Board this May to request that the Deseret air permit be overturned.

“Coal plants emit 30 percent of our nation’s global warming pollution,” said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign. “Building new coal plants without controlling their carbon emissions could wipe out all of the other efforts being undertaken by cities, states and communities across the country.”

The proposed Desert Rock Power Plant, by comparison, would emit more than 12.7 million tons of carbon dioxide

into the local airshed from its location southwest of Farmington. Like the Deseret plant, Desert Rock’s EPA permit, which was released this summer, did not account for carbon emissions on the massive coal-fired power plant. The New Mexico Attorney General’s office is asking that Desert Rock go back before the EPA for reconsideration.

However, Desert Rock proponents counter that the appeals board ruling is actually not definitive. Rich Alonso represents Desert Rock as counsel with Bracewell & Giuliani and is a former senior air attorney with the EPA. He commented that this week’s ruling only sent the question of carbon regulation back to the EPA for consideration.

“The permit was remanded to EPA for further consideration – a common act by the EAB – to consider if the agency should impose an alternative CO2 limit,” he said. “In context, the remand really is a procedural outcome that is silent as to any particular regulatory outcome.”

Alonso also argued against EPA regulation of carbon emissions, saying, “A ruling in support of regulation would turn American industry on its head by forcing inappropriate and inflexible CO2 regulation across the country, instead of allowing Congress to develop a national program to address CO2.”

– Will Sands

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