Progressive Utilities Support EPA Clean Air Regs: Five Truths about Power Plant Emissions Standards

By Stewart Boss

Are the new EPA standards for power plant emissions the “right tool at the right time?” A group of progressive utilities thinks so.

A debate this week at the Environmental Law Institute gave the electric utility industry an opportunity to spar over the Environmental Protection Agency’s court-ordered rules establishing standards that will, for the first time ever, set limits on emissions of mercury and other air toxics.

Arguing for the regulations were John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Michael Bradley of the Clean Energy Group, a coalition of utilities that support clean energy. Those utilities – Calpine Corporation, Constellation Energy, Exelon Corporation, NextEra Energy, National Grid, PG&E Corporation and the Public Service Enterprise Group – represent more than 146,000 MW of generating capacity.

Despite claims from utilities opposed to regulation that EPA rules will kill jobs and hurt the economy, the Clean Energy Group actually says that the industry is better prepared for the changes than many admit: nearly 60 percent of all coal-fired boilers that submitted stack test data to EPA are already achieving the Utility Toxics Rule’s proposed mercury emissions standard (100 boilers out of a total 178).

Since 2000, the electric industry has been anticipating that EPA would regulate hazardous air pollutant emissions, and as a result, many companies have already taken steps to install control technologies that will allow them to comply with requirements of the rule on time. The technologies to control emissions at coal‐fired power plants, including mercury and hydrochloric acid, are available and cost‐effective.

In his opening statement for the debate, the Clean Energy Group’s Bradley presented five “truths” about the Utility Toxics Rule.

  • Truth #1: In 2000, EPA issued a formal notice concluding that it was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate hazardous air pollutants from the electric power sector.
  • Truth #2: The industry has the tools to maintain electric system reliability even in the face of coal plant retirements.
  • Truth #3: We are not starting from scratch. Many power plants are ready to comply on time.
  • Truth #4: Most of the control technologies that coal-fired power plants will use to comply—like activated carbon injection and dry sorbent injection—can be installed in less than two years.
  • Truth #5: The Clean Air Act already provides companies the additional time to install controls, if necessary.

Bradley told his opponents at the debate: “grandstanding and hyperbole has been disproportionately in your camp…  It’s because the facts are the facts.”

The Environmental Law Institute published a four-part discussion of differing views on “The EPA Hazardous Air Pollutant Rule: 21 Years Later, a 21st Century Standard in its May/June 2011 issue of The Forum. You can read it here.

by Stewart Boss, CAP Energy Team Intern

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