Center for American Progress’s Unfair and Unbalanced Utility MACT Panel

by William Yeatman on June 22, 2011

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Yesterday morning, the Energy Opportunity program at the Center for American Progress, a leading liberal think tank, held a panel on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed “Utility MACT” rule to regulate coal- and oil-fired power plants under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act. This rule, if implemented, would be one of the costliest regulations, ever, and its primary justification is to protect pregnant, subsistence fisherwomen from the deposition onto inland, freshwater bodies of mercury emitted from American power plants. Notably, U.S. power plants contribute 2 percent of total mercury deposition across America, so they are a rather small component of this supposed problem. In future posts, I’ll contend that there are more reasonable methods of protecting the scores (hundreds?) of pregnant women who are also subsistence fishers, other than overhauling the electricity generation industry at a cost of $10 billion annually (EPA’s estimate) to $100 billion annually (industry’s estimate). In this post, I only want to note how extraordinarily unfair and unbalanced was the Center for American Progress’s panel yesterday. Consider the panelists:

Carol M. Browner, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

Center for American Progress Distinguished Senior Fellow Carol M. Browner, in addition to being an ardent environmentalist and an ex-member of the Socialist International’s Commission for a Sustainable World Society, was EPA Administrator during the Clinton Administration. In December 2000, EPA Administrator Browner determined that it was “appropriate and necessary” to add coal and oil fired power plants to the Section 112(c) list of the Clean Air Act. This was the first step leading to the proposed Utility MACT, and it was a very controversial decision. Note the date that then-Administrator Browner made this consequential listing—December 2000, during a lame-duck Presidential tenure. The timing smacks of political expediency.

W. Thaddeus Miller, Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and Secretary, Calpine

Calpine Executive Vice President W. Thaddeus Miller gave the industry perspective of the proposed rule. He was an interesting choice to lend such a viewpoint, because his company Calpine’s core business is owning and operating natural gas power plants that compete on the wholesale gas market, and natural gas plants are exempt from the EPA’s proposed Utility MACT rule. I didn’t hear mention of this latter fact when I listened to the event online. In fact, Mr. Miller’s company would be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the rule. Calpine would gain a huge competitive edge over the rule’s intended target: “dirty” coal. Having a Calpine representative give the “industry” perspective of the proposed Utility MACT is no more informative than having T. Boone Pickens give an “industry” perspective of the NAT GAS Act, a.k.a., the “Pickens Your Pocket Boondoggle Bill.”

Bob Perciasepe, Deputy Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency

EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, formerly the chief operating officer at the National Audubon Society, presented on the supposedly favorable economics of the proposed regulation. Notably, the EPA contends that the Utility MACT rule would be a net job creator, in that job growth in the pollution control industry would exceed job loss in the utility sector and also due to higher electricity prices. At face value, it’s tough to believe that an ultra-expensive, unnecessary regulation would improve the American economy. Deputy Administrator Perciasepe’s economic reasoning seems to be a textbook case of the “broken window fallacy.”

Mindy Lubber, President, Ceres

Ceres President Mindy Lubber presented on the proposed Utility MACT’s impact on jobs. That’s strange, because her organization, Ceres, doesn’t have anything to do with job creation. Rather, its mission is “Integrating sustainability into day-to-day business practices for the health of the planet and its people.” This sort of green mumbo-jumbo makes environmentalists feel good, but it doesn’t do much else.

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