EPA appears firm on limiting air toxics at coal power plants

Industry, Republicans aim to stall what agency considers life-saving limits on mercury and other emissions

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Coal plant smokestack.

Charlie Riedel/AP

Even as some big electric power companies resist stricter clean air rules, threatening to shutter plants and lay off workers, the Environmental Protection Agency appears to be holding its ground on a proposal to limit mercury and other toxic emission from coal-fired power plants.

The EPA says its new limits, requiring utilities to install “widely available, proven pollution control technologies,” would spare thousands of Americans from cancer, heart attacks and other ailments.

At a Center for American Progress forum on Tuesday, the agency’s deputy administrator, Bob Perciasepe, said the regulation would have far-reaching positive health and economic effects and that many power companies are well-prepared to deal with the change. The EPA estimates the plan will save 17,000 lives and create 9,000 permanent jobs.

At the forum, which was hosted by the left-leaning Center, Perciasepe was joined by a seemingly unlikely ally—Thaddeus Miller—an executive at Calpine, a natural gas power company.

Miller said his company had already made the changes the EPA might require in the future, and that other companies could still prepare ahead of the three years the EPA plans to give companies to comply.

“There’s still plenty of time to do it,” he said. “It takes two to three years to plan for environmental upgrades.”

As iWatch News has reported, Republicans and members of the industry have fought hard against the EPA’s proposed changes, even as their own practices to sidestep the Clean Air Act were highlighted in a government study.

On Capitol Hill, industry representatives have convinced Republicans to stall the EPA's new rules on mercury and other toxic emissions. Kentucky Republican Ed Whitfield, chairman of a House energy and power subcommittee, confirmed that Republicans would make their move in August. The EPA, meanwhile, is extending by 30 days the public comment period on the regulations.

“We don’t really have expectations that we can repeal all of this, but if we can delay the final rule, delay the compliance period and address whether or not technology is really available, then I think we’ve accomplished a lot,” Whitfield said, according to a report in Bloomberg News.

One of the largest utilities in the world, American Electric Power, recently signaled stepped-up defiance to proposed limits, and a new government study shows that half of all boilers attached to tall smokestacks across the country lack scrubbers encouraged by Clear Air Act amendments decades ago.

Lisa Jackson, the EPA's top official, in congressional testimony last week, complained of "special interests who are trying to guy longstanding public health protections."

American Electric Power, while forecasting a grim outcome to the press and to policymakers, has downplayed the impact of EPA regulations to its investors, National Journal reported.

Some power companies are more openly enthusiastic about the EPA's plans.

“The opposition has been louder,” natural gas executive Miller said. “But there has definitely not been universal opposition.” He said many companies, like his own, have already taken steps to put the not-yet-required technology into place.

Mindy Lubber, president of non-profit Ceres, a national environmental coalition of investors, environmental organizations and public interest groups, said said the agency lowballed the numbers and the economic boost the regulation could provide, which she said could mean, “290,000 jobs on average for the next five years."

Then there are the potential health benefits, she added. “We are making a rule that will have a profound effect on our families and our children."

 

 

 

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