Because of a single new EPA rule imposing Maximum Available Control Technology on coal-fired power plants, utility giant American Electric Power announced recently that it will shutter five coal-fired power plants — a quarter of its coal fleet serving millions of customers in West Virginia, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. By EPAs own calculations, it will cost consumers and businesses more than $10 billion yearly to comply with the new rule, which is aimed chiefly at reducing emissions of mercury and hazardous air pollutants. The consensus in the private sector is that the MACT rule will force nearly 1/5th of nations coal-fired electric generation capacity into retirement. As the Wall Street Journal editorialized, that will make electric power far more expensive and far less reliable, particularly in the South and Midwest where coal energy is concentrated. The economic rationality of the new rule was amply demonstrated by an Environmental Defense Fund spokesmans reaction to the AEP announcement: Closing plants is a business decision…. EPA regulations do not require any power plants to shut down. No, not in the sense that you always have the option of operating at a loss.
If the MACT rule goes through on schedule, much of the nations grid will have no alternative but to shift to natural gas. Luckily, huge abundant stores of natural gas have just become available because of a combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Robert Bryce had a must read op-ed on this at the Wall Street Journal recently. Not only does fracking and horizontal drilling open up a dazzling national treasure of cheap, clean energy for consumer electricity, but it could lead to a renaissance of American manufacturing. It could even fuel an energy export boom: the U.S. government recently approved the first-ever license to export natural gas from the lower 48 states to all U.S. trading partners. Natural gas in the U.S. now costs less than half of what it does in Europe, creating enormous pressure to develop U.S. exports of natural gas.
Environmentalists are already taking aim, in a campaign of hysteria and persecution, as a recent National Review feature by our own Kathleen Hartnett White reveals.