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Environmentalists excited, coal backers cautious about new EPA rules on coal-burning power plants

Kyger Creek OVEC coal plant in Gallia County
Andy Chow
Kyger Creek, one of four coal-burning power plants in operation in Ohio

New rules from the US Environmental Protection Agency are aimed at cracking down on pollution produced by coal plants. The regulations require them to reduce 90% of climate-change causing emissions by 2039, which will affect the four coal-burning power plants in Ohio.

There are also new rules limiting water pollution, mercury and other toxins and coal ash from these plants.

Environmentalists are pleased with the rules, which some experts suggest could be a deadly blow to coal.

"I think it's gonna have an important and big impact on the electricity sector to help clean the sector up and to hold big polluters accountable for the pollution that they have not been held accountable for ever before," said Neil Waggoner with the Sierra Club's Ohio Beyond Coal Campaign.

"The coal industry has been on the way out for a very long time and the reason for that is that it can't compete against clean energy," said Waggoner. "So this not something that is killing that industry; it's holding it to account for its pollution and the cost that we Ohioans, we Americans have been having to pay forever as a result of it."

But the coal industry is saying while it's contracted in recent years, these new rules don't doom it.

"Who doesn't want clean energy? We're all for it," said Ed Spiker with the Ohio Coal Association. "That being said, you put coal out of business, we'll be awfully reliant on some relatively untested technologies. We're talking about wind and solar, and the fact that there just is not technology out there to store electricity."

And Spiker said while coal emissions are greenhouse gases, so are those produced by natural gas. And he raised an issue other coal supporters have brought up—the increasing demands on the reliability of the U.S. power grid.

"We want to be able to have grid reliability. And we believe in trying to take the emotions out of it, that while coal might not be everybody's favorite neighbor, we're an important neighbor," Spiker said.

And he added: "What is the alternative right now? We're saying, let's keep working on ways to bring carbon sequestration into the equation. Maybe there'll be some additional technology that will come on board and online. But let's not throw the baby out with the bath water."

But Waggoner said the electricity sector has known for a long time these rules would be coming.

"These rules are going to take a number of years to fully implement. The power sector is going to have a number of ways and incentives and ability to implement them. So I don't see reliability as an issue here," Waggoner said. "When it comes to the coal industry itself, this is an industry that in the state of Ohio, you have coal plants that are relying on bailouts right now. So I don't know if I'd exactly take that industry at its word."

The Kyger Creek power plant in southern Ohio is one of two owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation (OVEC) that gets subsidies from House Bill 6. The billion-dollar nuclear power plant subsidy in that bill was repealed in 2021. Estimates from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio project HB 6 subsidies to OVEC's Kyger Creek and the Clifty Creek plant in Indiana will cost Ohio ratepayers $339 million by June 2024.

Spiker predicts legal challenges, which have happened with coal-related regulations before. Waggoner said he expects them as well, but the rules are within the EPA's authority and "have been very clearly built on strong public health demands and on strong evidence."

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at
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