WC listened to his buddy Cory Borgeson on KUAC-FM Monday morning. Recovering lawyer Borgeson is the General Manager of Golden Valley Electric Association, Interior Alaska’s electric utility. KUAC interviewed Borgeson about the impact of the then-unannounced EPA rules on CO2 emissions. Borgeson Viewed with Alarm any attempt to reduce coal burning or CO2 emissions, suggested a possible waiver for Alaska and announced GVEA would be joining unspecified lawsuits challenging the EPA regulations.
Well, the regulations came out today and while they require Alaska to make a reduction in total CO2 emissions per amount of electricity generated, they are hardly terrifying or draconian. According to the EPA’s website,
That’s a reduction of some 348 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour. Alaska’s power generation system needs to become 26% more efficient.
Coal hasn’t been banned. EPA isn’t ordering the Healy or Aurora or University coal-fired plants to be shut down. GVEA’s plan to re-open Healy II – the so-called “clean coal” plant in Healy – will be made much more difficult, but it was a bad idea anyway.
Right now, less than ten percent of Alaska’s electricity is generated by coal. The far more efficient natural gas accounts for more than half; 15% comes from petroleum — that’s GVEA’s North Pole plant and the dozens of small power plants in villages across the state powered by diesel.
What it comes down to is that GVEA must find a way to generate more electricity by natural gas and less by coal. Remember, only about 33% of the energy on a lump of coal is converted to electricity. 56% – 60% of the energy in natural gas is converted, and only CO2 is a waste product. Remember, too, coal is “cheap” only if you ignore the attendant environmental costs of mining, transporting and burning it. The EPA’s new rules are a modest step towards accounting for those costs.
As for litigation, Borgeson is forgetting that the EPA’s authority to regulate CO2 has been to the U.S. Supreme Court as recently as 2007, and the EPA was found to have the authority to regulate CO2 as a pollutant. The decision came with the Bush administration’s EPA claiming not to have such authority, which gives the current state of the law a pleasing irony. WC is the first to admit the the current radical majority of the SCOTUS has scant regard for precedent, even its own precedent. But the law is settled. A lawsuit is a bet that the SCOTUS will reverse itself. Even with the Roberts Court, that’s not a smart bet.
The monies Borgeson is planning to pour into legal fees would be more intelligently spent getting large quantities of natural gas from the North Slope to Fairbanks as quickly as possible. Or participating in a new natural gas-fired facility in Southcentral, with most of its electricity shipped north via the tie line as an interim measure.
A lawsuit, the legal equivalent of running in circles while screaming and shouting about the unfairness of its all, is counter-indicated. Because climate change is real. It’s going to impact Alaska hardest and soonest. It already is. A reduction in emitted CO2 is in Alaska’s best interests.