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EPA regulations for utilities an expensive exercise in futility

Benita Dodd's picture

The federal Environmental Protection Agency was in Atlanta on May 26 to hold a daylong hearing – one of just three nationwide – on its proposed Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) regulations for utilities. The passionate – if sometimes misguided – comments came from representatives of utilities, power plant neighbors, Native Americans, environmental activists, grassroots groups and the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

The Foundation’s comments focused on three aspects of the proposed MACT rules:

• The cost to industry and consumers in Georgia

• The time frame, both in the limited opportunity for analysis of the 945 pages of regulations and in the compliance deadline

• The basis for the EPA’s tougher regulations.

The cost to industry and consumers: The utility MACT is the most immediate threat. The rules would affect power plants responsible for nearly half of the power generation in the nation.

EPA says this rule will provide employment for thousands, by supporting 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term utility jobs. IHS/Global Insight estimates that every $1 billion spent on MACT upgrade and compliance costs will put 16,000 jobs at risk and reduce U.S. Gross Domestic Product by as much as $1.2 billion.

When production costs get higher here, industries will lose their competitive edge and begin to move offshore and more Americans will lose their jobs while the cost of living will get higher. The EPA says it will cost $10.9 billion a year. Industry estimates are much higher; estimates for the utility MACT alone are as high as $100 billion.

Meanwhile, the cost to ratepayers in the Southeast are expected to increase as much as 25 percent. A December 2010 Pew survey found 48 percent of respondents said they had difficulty paying their home heating and electricity costs.

The time frame: The EPA has asked for comments to be submitted by July 5. The regulations include a 171-page proposal, 19 technical support documents and more than 500 pages of regulatory impact analysis. While the EPA is operating under a court-ordered schedule, the judge noted that the consent decree allows for a change of schedule and she was willing to allow EPA more time to “get it right.”

These are some of the most significant and costly rules the EPA has proposed. That enough should motivate the agency to allow ample time for industry experts to analyze the conclusions and to comment on their impact – especially the cost versus the benefits.

The compliance window for these rules will also burden industry. Utilities have three years to comply. They have a legitimate concern about the compressed time schedule, especially given that it applies to the entire industry at once.

The basis for EPA’s tougher regulations, given that the air quality is the best in 40 years; that power plants account for less than a half percent of mercury emissions and that this is a global issue. Regulations exist to cover particulate matter emissions. Since 1970, coal-fired electricity generation increased 57 percent; at the same time, particulate emissions from coal-fired power plants are down 93.1 percent; sulfur emissions are down 56.6 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions are down 38.7 percent.

Utilities have cut emissions of mercury by about 40 percent. Today, the nation’s power plants are responsible for fewer than 50 tons of mercury emissions per year. Chinese power plants alone emit 400 tons. Natural sources produce up to 10,000 tons.

Mercury, cited as the issue of greatest concern, is just not that hazard that it once was. Today, there is certainly no indication that mercury is increasing in Georgia’s environment; it is just the opposite: Mercury in largemouth bass, for example, has dropped by half since the 1960s.

Eighty percent of the advisories against eating fish from U.S. waters are based on mercury, and the number of fishing places with those advisories has increased over 350 percent since the early 1990s. Increasing the number of advisories would lead one to think the danger of mercury pollution is increasing. What’s increasing, however, is the disincentive to eat fish as part of a healthy diet. Mercury emissions overall have decreased 60 percent since 1990 and no documented case of harm from mercury in fish has ever been reported in this country.

Burdensome, costly regulations are no way to encourage competition, investment or job creation. Georgians are struggling to recover from the economic downturn and don’t want intervention in returning to a more secure lifestyle. That includes an affordable cost of living and a thriving job market.

Taking money out of Americans’ pockets needlessly to implement air quality regulations that are unnecessary in order to force this country off reliable, affordable and cleaner than ever fossil fuel power generation is no way to a better quality of life.

[Benita M. Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, wrote this commentary based on the Foundation’s public comment at the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Utility MACT hearing in Atlanta on May 26, 2011. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians.]


Now is not the time to curb the EPA. 284 medical and scientific groups support the legislation that requires energy producers to clean up their emissions. For the other side go to-

PTC Observer's picture

Who do you believe benefits most from EPA laws? Could it be government funded scientific and medical groups?

Nope you would be wrong on that, these two groups do get a lot of money alright, but the BIG winners are the oil companies. Yep, that's right they get a whole bunch of money from the government to "clean up" the air, water, etc. They have a vested interest in convincing you that they are on the environment's side and at the same time they get billions in government subsidies and giveaways.

Here's the problem in a nutshell ptc87, every time the government gets involved in trying to regulate the economy, the American people get screwed. There's not enough bureaucrats in the world able to regulate the economy, and never will be.

However, there are a lot of politicans hoping that you believe that there are enough to capture your "vision". That's how they get re-elected and keep their power.

PTC O. Somebody has to be in charge. We know how well the oil, gas and coal companies performed before the EPA. Do we want them in charge again- I don't think so. So who else is there other than government?
I love my Social Security and Medicare. Who says government can't run anything- not me.

Cyclist's picture

[quote=ptc87]I love my Social Security and Medicare. Who says government can't run anything- not me.[/quote]

will SS and Medicare be around in 10 more years becuase it is so well managed?

Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

It is not the managers of Medicare or of the Social Security system at fault. Their overhead costs are way below any comparable private insurance companies offerings. The trouble is politics and greed. Unlike private companies Medicare and SS must rely on congress to pass laws to raise rates.

........"let the buyer beware group>"

I am old enough to remember what industry did to our atmosphere and health of our citizens before they were somewhat controlled!

I remember creeks running black, dark black, in coal mining country, and smelling loudly of sulphur (rottten eggs) at all times.

I remember smoke stacks coating everything in sight with deep, heavy exhaust which was breathed and eaten.

I remember lead paint, eaten by babies, who sometimes died early.

I, myself worked in dangerous chemical fumes and 130 decibels of sound and breathed dust so thick I had to blow it off to get into my car! I don't breath well, have bad hearing, and clogged lungs from the dust. (Don't get started on cigarettes!

"Market oriented" means forget the protection of human beings to these people. We can be safe and productive.

We still would not have any manufacturing in the USA even if we had no rules to keep costs down! Neither does China and all others have any rules and we can't beat them on labor cost and productivity even so.

Maybe we need to put 10 year old kids back into coal mines and into factories for 12 hours and six days a week?

Who are these people who want no controls to protect humans? Why do some vote for the same philosophies and write such columns for publication?

carbonunit52's picture

[quote]Who are these people who want no controls to protect humans? Why do some vote for the same philosophies and write such columns for publication?[/quote]

To answer this, one would need to use the time tested method of "Follow the Money". These days it often leads back to the Koch brothers. Electric utilities would burn old tires if allowed.

In 1969 simply breathing the air in NYC was equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes per day.
In 1972, GOP president Rich M Nixon signed the bill to establish the EPA into law. Thank you President Nixon.

The air quality today is better than it has been for 40 years because of this insightful action by the congress and the president at that time.

No doubt the business killer argument was used then to oppose the bill. No doubt the business killer argument was made each step of the way
with each new regulation.

But with out the updated EPA policy, would we still be breathing air equivalent to a pack of cigs a day? Who thinks yes?

Why can't the power industry get out in front of the regulators to adopt technology that already exists and is readily available to them?
I think that they should.

In China their hunger for energy is astounding as the size of the middle class explodes.

Their track record with coal emissions is abysmal. Their air inthe cities is just like NYC was in 1969.

China also leads the world in research and development of very large alternative energy sources and energy efficient devices and battery technology.

In Georgia largemouth bass mercury levels are dropping, is it because of standards voluntarily adopted by the power industry, or is it because of industrial controls put in place as a result of EPA regulation ?
Also, despite dropping levels the fish still aren't safe to eat.
The health advisories remain on how many you can or should eat.

Finally, large-scale use of coal as a energy source drove the industrial revolution in 1750. As a technology for energy production in today's world, it is end of life.

To the extent power companies can reduce the environmental damage from burning coal, the industry extends the life of the technology.
However, they had better hurry, research into better cleaner sources continues every day.

One day soon, coal will be obsolete and then it won't matter anymore. No one will want it at all. Agressive adoption of readily available inndustrial process controls can only extent the life of this very dated tecnology.


PTC Observer's picture

world did you come from?

Who exactly do you believe we compete against in the world?

Do they follow the "rules"?

Do we buy their products? Check out WalMart and the "made in" tags, those were once American made products, do you think that our regulations just might have had something to do with our competitive position in the world?

How do you know exactly that the EPA has not killed jobs in the United States?

Where do you think manufacturing is migrating to anyway? Why do you think it is going there?

I suppose we will be breathing clean air in our poverty, thanks Mr. Nixon.

carbonunit52's picture

The stone age did not end because we ran out of stone. Fossil fuels will be history one day, and the Oil Age will be taught in schools as ancient history. Children will marvel at the quaint and quirky ideas that we had, at least the empathetic ones will, while others will wonder what the heck we were thinking. The sooner we quit using filthy coal, the better the history will read. It is an observable fact that a species that starts to foul the nest is a species in decline. You appear too intelligent to be a member of the idiot fringe that thinks every environmental regulation results in a net loss of jobs.

PTC Observer's picture


yes, I suppose appearances can be deceiving sometimes.

Your prediction for the future of coal is quite correct and it is true because we only have about 400 years to go before the coal runs out, at the current consumption rate.

However we should let the market determine when the transition from coal to some undetermined alternate source occurs. I don’t think the government has any insight into how this can be done and I don’t think they can force it to happen either.

As long as there are free markets competing against our one sided and unilateral suicidal environmental laws in the west, our jobs will always come out on the short end of the stick. That my friend CarbonUnit is a law of economics, not some lunatic fringe “belief”, I believe that mantle goes to those that think that they can somehow shape the world to their “vision”. Now that’s real lunacy.

BHH's picture

But that's what the EPA is getting to finance this bull feces that it wants to force down our throats.

This branch of our government is out of control.

It should only be allowed to make recommendations and that's all.

If it can't stick to just that then it needs to be eliminated.

Anyone can create jobs out of needless work with a steady stream of someone else money.

Let's try to build better jobs that are productive and create profits for American business and industry for a change.

It will be the only way to fuel any expansion in this economy.

This term of "create jobs" is way over used and is beginning to mean something dirty, underhanded and counter productive.

At the very best it's sounds temporary and non conducive to a thriving economy.


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