The Florida DEP is fighting new federal rules to limit climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions

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TECO Plant Big Bend Apollo Beach. By Seán Kinane/WMNF (9 Jan. 2010).

By Jim Saunders ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Department of Environmental Protection lashed out at a federal proposal aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, saying it “places the reliability, affordability and capacity of the nation’s energy supply at risk.”

The department late Tuesday released comments that it sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urging that the proposed rules be dropped. The comments came amid similar objections from state and national utility-industry groups and the Florida Public Service Commission.

“(It) is clear the EPA has placed an emphasis on transitioning to a ‘net-zero world’ above the electric needs of Americans,” said the Department of Environmental Protection comments, signed by Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “Florida’s superior air quality is a result of ingenuity and smart governance. The proposed rules put states like Florida at greater risk, by attempting to force unproven transitional energy practices ahead of generating the energy capacity necessary to meet the demand of our residents, visitors and businesses.”

But groups such as the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which works on utility and climate issues in Florida, are backing the proposed rules. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy website called the proposal “critical.”

“These carbon pollution rules are long overdue,” the website said. “Experts have warned for decades about the risk of power plant carbon pollution, yet fossil fuel CEOs and their allies have caused delay after delay of meaningful regulations while our communities pay the price of inaction.”

The EPA released the wide-ranging proposal in May, saying the changes would dramatically reduce carbon emissions over the next two decades while helping protect public health. Tuesday was the deadline for submission of comments to the EPA about the proposal.

The proposal, in part, would set new pollution standards for power plants fueled by natural gas and coal, while taking steps to shift toward cleaner technology such as a type of fuel known as green hydrogen.

Florida receives relatively little electricity generated with coal, but it relies heavily on natural gas. About 70 percent of the state’s power generation in 2021 came from gas, according to a Florida Public Service Commission document.

Among the groups objecting to the proposal are the Florida Municipal Power Agency, an electricity wholesaler for municipal utilities, and the Florida Reliability Coordinating Council, which works on energy planning.

Officials with those groups last week pointed, in part, to a potential requirement for use of green hydrogen. If a green hydrogen threshold is not met by 2032, the EPA proposal would require scaling back generation at large gas-fired power plants, they said.

The Department of Environmental Protection also focused on such issues in the comments it submitted Tuesday. It said Florida currently has “no large hydrogen production facilities, hydrogen pipelines or hydrogen storage facilities.”

“The EPA’s determination that hydrogen co-firing is adequately demonstrated for large, frequently used gas turbines does not properly account for the scale and complexity of efforts needed to provide the required quantity of hydrogen to the nation’s power sector,” the department’s comments said. “The EPA’s optimistic projections of a new ‘hydrogen economy’ will force owners to instead limit electrical generation at those facilities to avoid becoming affected EGUs (electric generating units). This will lead to increased costs to ratepayers and threatened system reliability.”

The department also argued that the proposed rules violate a federal law known as the Administrative Procedure Act.

“Specifically, the proposed rules are arbitrary, capricious and go well beyond the bounds of congressionally authorized agency discretion,” the department’s comments said. “The (Environmental Protection) Agency has failed to demonstrate any authority allowing for the legal underpinnings of this rulemaking and has relied on a haphazard technical analysis in an attempt to justify the agency’s flawed proposals. This is nothing more than another instance of the EPA attempting to usurp congressional authority under the guise of discretion.”

As it released the proposal in May, the EPA said the measures would “require ambitious reductions in carbon pollution based on proven and cost-effective control technologies that can be applied directly to power plants.”

“By proposing new standards for fossil fuel-fired power plants, EPA is delivering on its mission to reduce harmful pollution that threatens people’s health and well-being,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a prepared statement. “EPA’s proposal relies on proven, readily available technologies to limit carbon pollution and seizes the momentum already underway in the power sector to move toward a cleaner future.”

Florida and other parts of the world are experiencing record-breaking temperatures this summer.

Greenhouse gas emissions from power plants are a leading driver of human-caused climate change.

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