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Stumbling Over Green Barriers

Rising oil prices, unrest in the Middle East, and a fragile economy are all worrisome subjects to many Americans. Despite President Obama’s rhetoric  about energy independence, reducing pain at the pump, and creating  American jobs, the EPA is unleashing  a host of strict, new regulations. A few of these regulations have already passed , and will only serve to worsen the dire economic situation in the United States. How can the EPA expect energy firms to do business with all the extra expenses incurred by jumping through bureaucratic hoops? How are consumer supposed to pay for higher priced energy?

The EPA, under the Obama administration, is passing regulations that will only serve to choke both the energy industry and job growth. The EPA will enact the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, or CSAPR, on January 1, 2012, which heavily regulates emissions from coal plants in twenty-seven states to prevent the emissions from possibly drifting over state lines. The lack of adequate time to adapt will surely make it difficult for established coal plants to continue operating.  The Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) Act, to be implemented in November, zeroes in on coal plants, mandates that they must drastically reduce common emissions and meet the same standards as the top 12%  of plants. The EPA also plans to revise  the National Air Ambient Quality Standards (NAAQAS), which will cost the U.S $900 billion a year and 7 million jobs by 2020.

Despite the increasingly anti-coal stance the EPA is taking, coal is an effective fuel that, along with new technologies, can help fulfill America’s energy needs. Crushed coal-fired magnetohydrodynamic, or MHD power generators are one such example. The technology was researched heavily in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Former crushed coal-fired MHD researcher Steven Seffens explains that the crushed “coal is burned at very high temperatures in essentially a wind tunnel, then seeded with metallic compounds to create a fast-moving plasma which, when moving through a magnetized throat, would create an electric current” and thus generate electricity. The technology has the potential to work at 60% efficiency  versus the traditional process which burns at 32%-35%  efficiency. The process inherently produces fewer  emissions than a normal coal burning plant because of the coal-fired MHD plant’s efficiency. The seed material is recycled, and 80%  of the coal ash is removed. A large percentage of pollutants are thus removed.

Yet like all new - or renewed - technology, firms will face high start-up costs, which are only made worse by the radical environmentalist’s hysteria and the EPA’s excessive regulation. The initial run of a coal-fired MHD power plant, according to Tom Brukhart of MSE, Inc. (a firm who has done coal-fired MHD research for the Department of Energy) would incur a higher cost than one might like. Firms would not be helped by the far-left environmentalists, as they – such as the Sierra Club – have demonized  the coal industry. The EPA’s new regulations will only hurt coal companies, and although MHD plants would likely meet and exceed their new emission requirements, the burgeoning anti-coal barrage would likely discourage new coal technology and likely raise start up costs even more due to the regulatory hoops that the companies would have to jump through.   

The crushed coal-fired MHD technology has unfortunately come to a standstill in this country since the early 1990’s. Even while the technology was in test facilities and hit its peak promise, firms lost interest in coal-fired technology because of the drop  in natural gas prices. This natural gas bubble made natural gas technology a cheaper option than continuing to use the then-relatively new MHD coal technology. Unfortunately, as environmentalist groups fight to ban hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) for natural gas, and as governmental regulation of fracking looms  in the distance, the price of natural gas may jump and thereby cause electricity rates to climb as well. The far-left environmentalists also pose a significant challenge to developing any form of new coal technology, even technologies which produce fewer emissions in the first place. These groups oppose coal in any form whatsoever, and according to the Sierra Club , want it to be completely eliminated from American energy industry. Research on coal-fired MHD technology has now shifted out of the United States, and Japan  has been the latest country to continue its development. The United States now has a vast coal reserve that will remain inefficiently used, and if the environmentalists and regulators have their way it will likely not be used at all.   

The EPA’s new excessive regulation only hurts the American consumer by strangling the energy industry. The United States has the second largest  coal reserves in the world – so why should it remain unused? New coal production would create desperately needed jobs , which could bolster America’s fragile economy and lower the cost of electricity for consumers. Why are Americans letting radical environmentalists and officials in an unelected regulatory agency dictate what our private energy sector can use? Americans must make responsible use of her natural resources, and not let irrational fears detract them.