Note: A nearly identical version of this column appeared last week in Forbes Online. I am reposting it here with many additional hyperlinks so that readers may more easily access the evidence supporting my conclusions.
The November 2012 elections ensure that President Obama’s war on coal will continue for at least two more years. The administration’s preferred M.O. has been for the EPA to ‘enact’ anti-coal policies that Congress would reject if such measures were introduced as legislation and put to a vote. Had Gov. Romney won the presidential race and the GOP gained control of the Senate, affordable energy advocates could now go on offense and pursue a legislative strategy to roll back various EPA global warming regulations, air pollution regulations, and restrictions on mountaintop mining. But Romney lost and Democrats gained two Senate seats.
Consequently, defenders of free-market energy are stuck playing defense and their main weapon now is litigation. This is a hard slog because courts usually defer to agency interpretations of the statutes they administer. But sometimes petitioners win. In August, the U.S. Court of Appeals struck down the EPA’s Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), a regulation chiefly targeting coal-fired power plants. The Court found that the CSAPR exceeded the agency’s statutory authority. Similarly, in March, the Court ruled that the EPA exceeded its authority when it revoked a Clean Water Act permit for Arch Coal’s Spruce Mine No. 1 in Logan County, West Virginia.
A key litigation target in 2013 is EPA’s proposal to establish greenhouse gas (GHG) “new source performance standards” (NSPS) for power plants. This so-called carbon pollution standard is not based on policy-neutral health or scientific criteria. Rather, the EPA contrived the standard so that commercially-viable coal plants cannot meet it. The rule effectively bans investment in new coal generation.
We Can Win This One
Prospects for overturning the rule are good for three main reasons. [click to continue…]
The Environmental Protection Agency is using an obscure aesthetic regulation in the Clean Air Act to run roughshod over western states.
East of the Mississippi, President Barack Obama’s regulatory crackdown on coal threatens to shutter up to 40 gigawatts of electricity generation. Yet due to a variety of factors (the low sulfur content of western coal, low population density, and newer plant stock), coal-fired plants west of the Mississippi are in a much better position to withstand the regulatory onslaught .
In order to target western coal, the Environmental Protection Agency is leveraging a long ignored provision of the Clean Air Act designed to improve visibility, known as the Regional Haze rule. Notably, this is an aesthetic regulation, not a health-based regulation. In practice, eastern states are exempt from Regional Haze requirements, because the EPA allows states to meet this aesthetic regulation in the course of complying with health-based regulations.
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In 2007, then-Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) championed and ultimately signed the Next Generation Act, which effectively imposed a moratorium on coal-fired power plants in the State. Evidently, the legislature is having second thoughts about a future without coal, because last week both the House and the Senate moved legislation that would overturn the coal ban. By a 15 to 6 vote, the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance committee passed H.F. 72, “A bill for an act relating to energy; removing ban on increased carbon dioxide emissions by utilities.” The Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications passed a companion bill, by a 9 to 3 vote.
Last Tuesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a section 404 Clean Water Act permit to a Massey Coal subsidiary for the Reylas Surface Mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The permit was originally issued in 2007, but it became ensnared in the Obama Administration’s war on Appalachian coal (click here or here for more information on that subject). In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency recommended against granting the permit, so there is a good chance that the EPA will veto this permit. In January, the EPA exercised this authority for the first time in the history of the Clean Water Act in order to veto the Spruce No. 1 mine, which is also in Logan County. Notably, the EPA objects to these mines because they allegedly harm an insect that isn’t an endangered species. But before the EPA could act, environmentalist lawyers won an injunction in a West Virginia federal court.