Digging Into Coal Regulations

Posted on February 7, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

By Scott Orr

Operators of coal-fired power plants are watching anxiously as a federal appeals court considers a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which places strict and costly limits on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

The court already has issued a stay of the rules, which were supposed to be implemented January 1, a deadline power generators said would not give them enough time to perform the retrofits necessary to meet the new regulations.

It’s a classic case of a universally endorsed goal – cleaner air – colliding with the economic reality of increased energy costs for American households and potentially wider impacts on the economy. But the issue goes well beyond the coal industry; all businesses that consume electricity should be watching closely as this and other federal regulations take effect.

Some coal-burning plant operators are saying “no” to costly retrofitting programs and simply shutting down, which will decrease the availability of energy and could lead to higher costs for consumers in some areas.

Cleveland-based FirstEnergy, for example, is planning to close six coal-fired units that operate in states where prices are driven in part by supply and demand. The Associated Press reported recently that those closures could nearly double the $126 per megawatt cost of electricity in those regions.

So while no one wants to see their electric bill increase, backers of the new regulations say the costs will pay off in cleaner air and improved health.

The EPA says the CSAPR will save up to 34,000 lives, prevent 15,000 heart attacks and even prevent 400,000 asthma attacks each year. That, the agency said, adds up to somewhere between $120 billion and $280 billion in annual health benefits for the nation.

It is important to note that the CSAPR is not the only new rule coming down on the coal industry. The EPA is also pushing for new tougher limits on mercury, acid gases and particulate matter that can include metals like chromium, selenium and cadmium.

The Columbus-based American Electric Power Company has said these rules will cost billions and force it to close parts of or all of 11 power plants. That may be true, but the EPA says all that spending will create thousands of jobs and boost the economy, while saving thousands of lives.

Though the administration has shown little interest in compromising with industry, how and when these new regulations are implemented are issues every business should be watching. We’ve got our eyes on them.

Turner GPA is a leading D.C.-based national lobbying and government affairs firm dedicated to delivering cutting edge policy advocacy for the manufacturing, defense, aerospace, health and energy industries. Members of our professional policy team can be reached at (202) 466-2511. We are also on the Web at www.turnergpa.com.

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One Response to “Digging Into Coal Regulations”

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i recently spoke to a friend who was to have studied in Cina for one year but instead came home after four months. Now gone to Latin America to finish the term of study abroad. The stay in China was cut short because she and many in her group began to develop respiratory problems that promised to become chronic illnesses. China has no problem permitting the kind of coal fired energy generation at stake here and also has no problem with the consequential illness and death among its people.

We can do the same here, the House is no doubt poised to strike at this issue in the name of the consumer– but the consumer is not at risk in the costs equation– supply and demand furnishes price standards– the question is one of finance and corporate responsibility.

Whether there is any calculus of sickening or even killing our citizens slowly with airborne poisons that equates to a decision to close a business rather than run it responsibly. Health statistics demonstrate connections to illness and mortality from certain pollutants like sulfur compounds. Here is my suggestion, these businesses need to be sold to people who are simply up to the challenge of managing change. As a Nation we are being held captive to an incredible inertial force in big business. The belief that the public should sacrifice for businesses– i cannot imagine where this comes from in terms of justification or morality–it is expedience at its worst.

One would think there would be a thriving business in cleaning up coal and the companies who depend upon coal- the power grid, the railroads, should be energetically pursuing it–instead there is the more convenient solution- invest in a Republican office holder and the public health be damned. There is an economic boom concealed within the problems we urgently need to solve, this is only one rather typical example. Howard D. Moore


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