29 Jun 2012

Federal Court’s Upholding EPA on Greenhouse Gases Boosts Opportunity for Hybrids and Power from Renewables and Natural Gas

Written by Jim Pierobon

A federal appeals court has done for natural gas and renewable sources of electricity that no executive branch stimulus package could ever hope to do: raise the bar higher still to justify building another coal-fired power plant in the U.S.

The same can be said in favor of hybrid and all-electric passenger cars.

Now that the ‘coal ash’ is settling from the initial browbeating by coal-embedded interests over the federal appeals court’s upholding the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial greenhouse gas rule, renewable energy and natural gas face a virtually unlimited opportunity to displace coal in America’s power generation mix at an ever-quickening rate, especially in Texas. And automakers are stepping up their efforts to get even more high-mileage vehicles into their showrooms this fall.

More electricity generating plants such as this one powered by natural gas will be displacing dirty coal-fired plants after a federal appeals court upheld the EPA’s 2009 finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health. CREDIT: Austin Energy

Even if GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney acts on a promise in his campaign ads currently running in Ohio to repeal regulations that are “strangling our energy industry and costing us jobs,” I’ll bet this is one rule that will stand. In the process, more jobs, more companies and more technologies — and their supply chains — will sprout to build on U.S. momentum in cleaning up its air, water and land.

As for utilities such as Southern Co. and Duke Energy Corp. which are building so-called “clean coal” power plants (designed to turn coal into a combustible gas), how shareholders and boards of directors enable their managements to stand by those decisions deserves to be closely scrutinized. Ten years from now, those may be the only “clean coal” plants operating in the U.S. — if they ever get built.

A spokeswoman for Southern Co., which owns four electric utilities, reasserted its belief that the Clean Air Act is ill-suited to handle issues like greenhouse gases. She told The Wall Street Journal that “Congress should be the policy maker in this area.”

Hello! What policy of any energy or environmental substance has been crafted by Congress since 2008? And the partisan battles shaping up for this fall’s general election leave little hope Congress can rise to this challenge — and responsibility — anytime soon, if ever again on such an issue. Any president deserves to try to craft rules and get them affirmed in the courts whenever lawmakers are not up to the task.

To critics of President Obama’s stimulus spending on cleaner energy and transportation fuels: I say let the stimulus spending wind down and private sector investments take over. That includes digesting yet another solar bankruptcy filing by Abound Solar.

What Edmunds.com says about the 2013 Ford Fusion: “With solid power, more refinement and top fuel economy estimates, the 2013 Fusion could take Ford to the top of the midsize sedan class.” CREDIT: Ford Motor Co.

At least the auto industry saw the writing on the walls of their showrooms and recognized the benefit of a national standard for regulating fuel economy and tailpipe emissions. The court backed them and the EPA this week too.

Ford is maneuvering to lead the pack with the Fusion midsized sedan (photo, right) with an estimated 47 miles-per-gallon. The battery-powered Ford Focus is designed to eliminate CO2 emissions altogether with an equivalent 110 miles-per-gallon.

The three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit resoundingly rejected utility arguments that there is still too much uncertainty about global warming for the EPA rule to stand. One of the judges was appointed by Ronald Reagan, the other two by Bill Clinton.

Virginia and Texas, along with 12 other states, had sued to block the rules. Fifteen states, including New York, California and Massachusetts, filed to support the EPA.

Said the court’s ruling: “The existence of some uncertainty does not, without more, warrant invalidation of an endangerment finding.” Read the court’s complete ruling here.

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