Power Companies: ‘The Time Is Now’ for Air Toxics Rule

Valeri Vasquez

Big oil and coal companies, and some utilities are offering Americans a “false choice” between jobs, economic stability, and public health as the debate over EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics rule heats up. But a number of utilities across the country want the nation to know the truth: The time for mercury reduction is now.

In a July 11th letter to Congressional leaders, 36 energy companies noted that delaying the air toxics rule will generate uncertainty among investors, as well as companies already preparing for compliance. This uncertainty will slow investments and economic recovery.

The landmark standard will decrease mercury and acid gas emissions from coal-fired utilities by 91 percent, and slash sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution by 55 percent. It is slated to go final on November 16th. The rule is projected to save 17,000 lives and prevent 11,000 heart attacks and 120,000 asthma attacks annually — all while providing $140 billion in health benefits every year. A University of Massachusetts study found that together with the Clean Air Transport rule, the air toxics rule will create 1.4 million jobs over the next five years. So far, more than 639,000 Americans have expressed their support for the rule during the public comment period due to end August 4th.


Even so, some of the nation’s worst polluters are trying to delay these health protections. Utilities like Southern Company and DTE claim that it will be too difficult to install mercury reduction equipment by a 2015 compliance date, even though the law was passed 20 years ago, and the first standards were proposed seven years ago. These recalcitrant companies threaten job cuts, power reliability, and economic impacts if the three year timeline is not extended. Meanwhile, the coal-fired power plants responsible for 40 percent of mercury pollution in the United States continue to spew an additional 772 million pounds of toxic chemicals into playgrounds, backyards, and lungs every year.

A CAP analysis revealed that coal fired power plants without pollution controls are more than 50 years old, on average. Yet some utilities are still unwilling to modernize them. These outmoded entities are countered by the chorus of power companies who understand that the new mercury standards are not only achievable, they’re also good for business. Delaying the rules will “undermine” investments in cleanup technologies

“Companies and investors need certainty on air emissions policy. Delaying regulation will stall investment in America’s energy infrastructure and innovative technologies.”

Dick MunsonSenior Vice President for Public Affairs, Recycled Energy DevelopmentJuly 11, 2011

“Proceed with finalizing the rule. Companies have begun to prepare for a 2015 compliance deadline, and the electric power markets are factoring in the capital expenditures that will be required to comply with the rule. Any delay would threaten to undermine those decisions.”

Clean Energy Group, a coalition of ten power companiesLetter to EPA Administrator Lisa JacksonJune 15, 2011

Pollution reductions will create jobs

“We recently completed the installation of a major air quality control system…at one of our major coal facilities. Construction took 26 months, employing nearly 1,400 skilled workers. Our new system is not only reducing our SO2 and NOx emissions in compliance with state and federal requirements, but is already helping us to achieve the other emission reductions that we anticipate will be required under the Toxics Rule.”

Mayo ShattuckChairman, President and CEO, Constellation Energy GroupMarch 25, 2011

“BCSE supports EPA’s stated timeline for finalizing and implementing the Proposed Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for the electric utility sector…Shifting to lower emissions technologies and resources while upgrading our nation’s electric generation infrastructure will help drive economic growth and create jobs.”

Lisa JacobsonPresident, Business Council for Sustainable Energy, a coalition of power and energy companiesMay 26, 2011

Reducing toxic air pollution will not affect electricity reliability

“Exelon Corporation supports the policy objectives underlying EPA’s proposed Air Toxics Rule and believes that the proposed rule is balanced, reasonable and long overdue…nothing about this rule will jeopardize the reliability of the electric system. PJM, the nation’s largest integrated power operator, just confirmed last week that its system will have more than enough electricity supply even after the Toxics Rule takes effect.”

Bruce AlexanderEnvironmental Regulatory Strategy Director, Exelon CorporationMay 24, 2011

Some companies started installation of cleaner technologies to reduce compliance costs

“Many members of the [power] industry — not just Calpine — many utilities, many of our competitors in the IPP sector, have been investing money since 2000 in anticipation of this air toxics rule. This is not a surprise, this is something we’ve all know about for 10 years, there’s yet another three years to get ready for it…the system is ready. We have more capacity than we need, and we can afford to have some of the capacity come offline — the capacity that is uneconomic to be upgraded to comply with these new rules.”

Thaddeus MillerExecutive Vice President, CalpineJune 21, 2011

“[T]he anticipation of more stringent environmental rules has long been part of our business plan. Over the past 10 years, we have spent $5 billion retrofitting existing units with updated emissions controls…Today, approximately 75 percent of our current coal generation capacity has scrubbers in operation. This will increase to approximately 90 percent once our fleet modernization program and related retirements are completed…We have really mitigated a lot of the risk and the cost associated with this program by the early steps that we took.”

Jim RogersPresident and CEO, Duke EnergyMay 3, 2011

Clean energy group utilities experienced “important economic benefits” from pollution reductions

We’ve made significant investments in technology at our plants, and they are now some of the cleanest coal plants in the U.S. The work we did reduced hazardous air pollutants and even stimulated important economic activity. We can move forward with this rule without compromising the reliability of the electric system.”

Ralph IzzoChairman, President and CEO, Public Service Enterprise GroupMarch 25, 2011

“Contrary to the claims that the EPA’s agenda will have negative economic consequences, our companies’ experience [in] complying with air quality regulations demonstrates that regulations can yield important economic benefits, including job creation, while maintaining reliability.”

John Rowe, Chairman and CEO, Exelon CorpLewis Hay, Chairman and CEO, NextEra Energy, Inc.Peter Darbee, Chairman, president and CEO, PG&E Corp.Jack Fusco, President and CEO, Calpine Corp.Ralph Izzo, Chairman, president and CEO, Public Service Enterprise Group, Inc.Thomas King, President, National Grid USAMayo Shattuck, Chairman, President, and CEO, Constellation Energy GroupLetter to the Editor, The Wall Street JournalDecember 8, 2010

Hopefully, Congress will heed these large, innovative power and energy companies, and not interfere with the established timeline for the Mercury and Air Toxics rule. After all, both the economy and public health stand to benefit from the job creation, investor certainty, continued electricity reliability, and clean air generated by this rule. And it’s hard to find the loser in a win-win situation.  — Valeri Vasquez, special assistant to CAP’s energy teamWant to support the Mercury and Air Toxics rule? Send your comment to the EPA by clicking here. Pídele al EPA que reduzca el mercurio y otros contaminantes tóxicos de nuestro aire aquí.