Post image for EPA’s Utility MACT Overreach Threatens To Turn out the Lights

Three of the Congress’s most influential energy policymakers this week “urged” the Environmental Protection Agency to delay an ultra-costly regulation targeted at coal-fired power plants, the source of 50 percent of America’s electricity generation.  For the sake of keeping the lights on, all Americans should hope the Obama administration heeds these Congressmen’s request.

Senate Environment and Public Works Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK), House Energy and Commerce Chair Fred Upton (R-MI), and House Energy and Power Subcommittee Chair Ed Whitfield (R-KY) yesterday sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson demanding a longer comment period for a proposed regulation known as the Utility HAP MACT

[The HAP stands for “Hazardous Air Pollutant,” and the MACT stands for “Maximum Achievable Control Technology”; to learn what these terms entail, read this summary of the regulation, Primer: EPA’s Power Plant MACT for Hazardous Air Pollutants.]

The EPA issued the Utility HAP MACT in mid-March, and it gave the public 60 days to comment. The Congressmen “urge the agency [to] extend the comment period to a minimum of 120 days to allow adequate time for stakeholders to assess and comment on the proposal.”

The extended comment period is well warranted. For starters, the EPA included a number of “pollutants” in the proposed regulation that shouldn’t be there. The EPA’s authority to regulate hazardous air pollutants from power plants is derivative of a study on the public health effect of mercury emissions. The EPA’s proposed regulation, however, would regulate acid gases, non-mercury metals, and organic air toxins, in addition to mercury. Yet the EPA’s evidence only pertains to mercury. The EPA’s authority to regulate these non-mercury emissions, despite their not having been a part of the aforementioned study, will be challenged, and the DC Circuit Court ultimately will decide.

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Post image for Will EPA Regulators Leave America In The Dark?

There’s no doubt that federal regulations lead to economic harm, but could the wave of Obama regulations affecting electric power plants lead to electricity shortages as well? A new study from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) finds reason for concern.

Resource Adequacy Impacts of Potential U.S. Environmental Regulations looks at four pending Environmental Protection Agency rules – the Cooling Tower Rule, the MACT Rule, the Clean Air Transport Rule, and the Coal Combustion Residuals Rule – that would impact coal-fired electric generating units. These power plants currently provide half of America’s electricity. It should be noted that there are several other proposed or recently finalized rules that also affect these units – including the EPA’s massive global warming regulatory agenda – that are not considered in this study. Nonetheless, NERC concludes that these four rules raise issues about electric reliability in the years ahead.

The study concedes considerable uncertainties regarding how strict the final version of these proposed rules will be as well as their ultimate compliance costs. For example, multiple rules with fairly urgent and overlapping timetables place great constraints on the existing supply of skilled labor and equipment needed to comply, while a more sequential rollout would be less onerous. In any event, NERC fears enough premature retirements of older coal-fired plants, along with significant downtime for units undergoing retrofits, to raise the possibility of reliability shortfalls.

This much is certain – the billions in compliance costs from EPA’s rules will boost electric bills. But whether there will be enough electricity to meet the nation’s growing demand while avoiding brownouts or blackouts is just one more piece of regulatory uncertainty to be piled onto the economy in the years ahead.