And it is! E Science News writes, “The cost of complying with tougher EPA air-quality standards could spur an increased shift away from coal and toward natural gas for electricity generation, according to a new Duke University study. The stricter regulations on sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxide and mercury may make nearly two-thirds of the nation's coal-fired power plants as expensive to run as plants powered by natural gas, the study finds. "Because of the cost of upgrading plants to meet the EPA's pending emissions regulations and its stricter enforcement of current regulations, natural gas plants would become cost-competitive with a majority of coal plants -- even if natural gas becomes more than four times as expensive as coal."
As for the politics of the issue, Ben Geman of “The Hill” reports, this “week is jam-packed on the energy front in Washington, D.C. It will bring public grilling of President Obama’s choices to run the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, battles over the Keystone pipeline, and more. Ernest Moniz, Obama’s choice to replace outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu, will face the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist, who heads the university’s Energy Initiative, isn’t expected to hit major roadblocks en route to confirmation.
“But Moniz has drawn scrutiny, and some criticism on the left, over the MIT group’s support from big oil companies, as well as his consulting and advisory work with BP and other companies.
“Look for a more contentious affair Thursday when EPA nominee Gina McCarthy appears before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. McCarthy is the EPA’s top air quality official and, if confirmed, would replace former Administrator Lisa Jackson. The Senate committee includes three of Capitol Hill’s most outspoken critics of the EPA: The panel’s ranking Republican David Vitter (La.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
“Beyond the confirmation fights, next Wednesday brings release of the delayed White House fiscal 2014 budget proposal. Obama will likely revive his fight with Republicans and Democrats from oil-producing areas over petroleum industry tax policy. His previous spending plans have called for stripping billions of dollars’ worth of tax incentives from oil-and-gas producers, but Congress has not gone along. The budget could also put meat on the bones of other White House energy-related plans.
“They include Obama’s call to steer $2 billion over a decade from offshore oil-and-gas royalties into the development of technologies that wean the transportation sector off oil. And before the budget’s release, a top White House aide will promote Obama administration energy policies. Heather Zichal, a senior White House climate and energy aide, will speak Monday at a conference hosted by the group Transportation Energy Partners. The conference is focused on alternative transportation fuels. The fight over the Keystone pipeline, which would bring crude from Alberta’s oil sands projects to Gulf Coast refineries, will flare on at least two fronts next week. On Tuesday, Alberta Premier Alison Redford will make the case for the project during an appearance at the Brookings Institution. She will talk about the Keystone pipeline as part of a broader discussion on the U.S.-Canada energy relationship. Wednesday, a House Energy and Commerce Committee subpanel will review legislation that would approve the pipeline, a project that remains under Obama administration review. House GOP leaders have assigned number H.R. 3 to the bill, signaling that it’s a high priority.”