How much would you pay for nothing? Personally speaking, I wouldn’t pay a single cent for zero returns, and I think most Americans would agree. It is this shared sentiment that compels me to feel bad for North Dakotans, because EPA is forcing them to pay $12 million annually, for nothing.
I am not exaggerating. EPA last Friday promulgated a final Regional Haze regulation for North Dakota, which requires almost $12 million in annual compliance costs, in exchange for “benefits” that are literally invisible.
I’ve written about the Regional Haze rule many times before on this blog (see here, here, here, and here). It was created by the Congress in 1977 amendments to the Clean Air Act. Its purpose is to improve visibility at federal national parks and wilderness areas. The hallmark of the Regional Haze provision is the unique degree of primacy accorded to the States over EPA. Because Regional Haze is an aesthetic regulation—and not a public health regulation—the Congress intended for the States to be the lead decision makers.
Despite the Congress’s intent, EPA has aggressively interpreted its Regional Haze prerogatives so as to usurp the States’ rightful authority. Indeed, North Dakota is the fourth State subject to a federal implementation plan for Regional Haze. North Dakota Department of Health had spent years creating a visibility improvement plan that was submitted in the summer of 2011. The State plan met all of the criteria established by the Clean Air Act and its implementing rules, so it was eminently approvable. It would have cost $600,000 a year.
Last Friday, however, EPA disapproved North Dakota’s Regional Haze strategy, and imposed almost $13 million/year in additional Regional Haze controls at two power plants. In the rulemaking, the Agency stated that these controls were “cost-effective.” This is an eye-opening declaration, in light of the fact that these supposedly “cost-effective” controls fail to achieve a perceptible improvement in visibility.
Don’t take my word for it! The eyes never lie. Below, I’ve used a visibility modeling software program (WinHaze) in order to demonstrate the difference between North Dakota’s plan and that imposed by EPA. See for yourself:
Can you tell a difference? I can’t, and I’ve been staring at these photos intensely, as if they were Magic Eye posters. As the images above make clear, EPA’s Regional Haze regulation is all pain and no gain in North Dakota.