New Emission Standard, ‘A Red Carpet’ for Coal-Fired Power Plants to Pollute The Air

  • Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoeF) Regulation No. 15 Year 2019 Regarding Emission Standard of Thermal Power Plants gives a ‘red carpet’ for Coal-Fired Power Plants to pollute the air
  • MoEF Regulation No. 15 Year 2019 doesn’t clearly defined ‘construction’ in its two emission standards criteria. The word ‘construction’ might create at least a multiple interpretation. ‘Construction’ might be interpreted as a phase where a coal-fired power plant is part of electricity planning or where power purchase agreement is obtained, or where an environmental permit is obtained. Or where physical construction has begun.
  • Coal-fired power plants emissions standard’s formulators need to determine a grandfathering time period (sunset provision)
  • Coal-fired power plants emission standard’s rule makers must mandated and assist every coal-fired power plant in creating a roadmap in order to meet the emission standard in a reasonable timeline. Closed down of old and inefficient coal-fired power plants that will have difficulties in meeting new emission standard needs to be considered.
  • Writer is a researcher of Indonesian Center for Environmental Law.

Minister of Environment and Forestry enacted a new Ministry Regulation No. 15 Year 2019 Regarding Emission Standard of Thermal Power Plants on April 23rd 2019. This regulation gives a ‘red carpet’ for coal-fired power plants to pollute the air. This regulation established two criterias for coal-fired power plants emission standard. Firstly, this standard applies for constructed or operating coal-fired power plants before the regulation was enacted. Secondly, this standard applies for constructed coal-fired power plants after the regulation was enacted (see table).

 

MoEF Regulation No. 15 Year 2019 doesn’t clearly defined the word ‘construction’ in its two criterias. The word ‘construction’ may at least generates multiple interpretations. ‘Construction’ might be interpreted as a phase where a coal-fired power plant is part of electricity planning or where power purchase agreement is obtained, or where an environmental permit is obtained. Or where physical construction has begun.

 

A Weaker Standard

Two criterias of coal-fired power plants emission standard in the MoEF Regulation No. 15 Year 2019 might be interpreted as an exemption for constructed or operating coal-fired power plants to meet the strictest emission standard before the regulation was enacted. In other words, constructed or operating coal-fired power plants have a privilege to meet a more lax emission standard than new coal-fired power plants.

 

This kind of stipulation is called grandfathering. Franck Ackerman dkk., in an article titled “Grandfathering and coal plant emissions: the cost of cleaning up the Clean Air Act” explained that grandfathering means a party, who has conducted an activity before a regulation is enacted, receives a lenience or an exemption from the new regulation. Richard L. Revesz and Jack Lienke in their book named Struggling for Air: The War on Coal said there are several reasons to support the use of grandfathering. One of those is justice. Businessmen made an investment decision based on prevailing law at that time so they must be protected. Or they receive compensation for a change in regulation that will decrease their value investment.

 

In terms of Coal-Fired Power Plants in Indonesia, constructed or operating coal-fired power plants’ businessmen made an investment decision based on emission standard that prevailed between 2008 or 1995. Constructed or operating coal-fired power plants’ businessmen bear a heavier responsibility if they have to abide to a stricter emission standard that applies to new coal-fired power plants.

 

There is also a counter argument for the justice reason behind the use of grandfathering. Richard L. Revesz and Jack Lienke, still from the same book, explains that it doesn’t make sense if businessmen assume the regulations pertinent to their business activities will never change.

 

In terms of coal fired power plants emission standard, businessmen should appropriately understand that a revision of the emission standard could happen because scientific knowledge and technology keep evolving.

 

According to Article 8 Provision 3 of Government Regulation No. 41 Year 1999 Regarding Air Pollution Control, Minister of Environment and Forestry has an authority to review emission standard every five years.

 

Richard L. Revesz and Jack Lienke also argue that a grandfathering in coal-fired power plants emission standard can be seen as a pragmatic political effort from coal-fired power plants emission standard’s rule makers. The rule makers may also think that a grandfathering is needed to accelerate revision process of coal-fired power plants emission standard. In other words, grandfathering is a compromise to establish coal-fired power plants emission standard.

 

Time Limit

 

A grandfathering provision in the MoEF Regulation is made worse because it doesn’t include a time limit period. Meaning that constructed and operating coal-fired power plants can abide to more lenient emission standard indefinitely.

 

What problem will emerge if old coal-fired power plants are obliged to abide to a more lenient emission standard indefinitely? Lauri Myllyvirta, in his presentation called “Coal-Fired Power Plants Emission Standard in MoEF Regulation no. 15 Year 2019: Its Effects on Jabodetabek Area” (https://www.slideshare.net/laurimyllyvirta/indonesia-updated-emissions-standards-for-coalfired-power-plants) explained the health impacts of coal-fired power plants emissions around Jakarta with that kind of emission standard. Thousands of early deaths each year will keep happening in Jakarta due to the emissions from operating coal-fired power plants in Jakarta surrounding areas. Thousands of early deaths will happen indefinitely. These thousands of early deaths might probably decline if there is a willingness from coal-fired power plants emission standard’s rule makers to review the emission standard. Revision of coal-fired power plants emission standard can take more than a decade, as happened in coal-fired power plants emission standard revision in 1995, 2008, and the last one 2019. This means hope of a revision can happen after 2030.

 

Just imagine the wasted opportunities to protect human health due to the indefinite grandfathering provision. Therefore, coal-fired power plants emission standard’s rule makers need to determine a time limit for the grandfathering provision (sunset provision). This means that at a certain period of time, the grandfathering provision will be revoked from the MoEF Regulation No. 15 Year 2019. In other words, in a certain period of time, operating coal-fired power plants or plants with power purchase agreement must meet the same emission standard as the new coal-fired power plants.

 

Time limit for grandfathering, as stipulated in the 1995 version of coal-fired power plants emission standard which is in Article 2 Provision 2 of Ministry of Environment Decree No. 13 Year 1995 Regarding Emission Standard of Immovable Sources. Time period of grandfathering provision varies from one coal-fired power plant to others depends on their operation period.

 

Coal-fired power plants emission standard’s rule makers must mandated and assist every coal-fired power plant in creating a road map in order to abide  emission standard in a reasonable timeline. Closed down of old and inefficient coal-fired power plants that will have difficulties in meeting new emission standard needs to be considered. Furthermore, attention needs to be put on constructed coal-fired power plants that are very likely to meet a stricter emission standard economically.

 

Bruce C. Buckheit and Justin Guay, in an article titled A Penny A Day to Help Clean Indonesia’s Air From Coal Power is A Bargain That Can’t Be Beat, estimated that it merely takes US$2.70 per individual for the whole coal-fired power plants in Java and Bali to install a modern air pollution control equipment. This means that grandfathering provision in coal-fired power plants emission standard is not necessary economically. For now, coal-fired power plants emission standard’s rule makers don’t have to waste their time to fix the new emission standard.