WASHINGTON - West Virginia lawmakers derided the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that Wednesday released a federal regulation controlling toxic air pollution from fossil-fuel fired power plants.
Utilities must reduce emissions under the Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule aimed at mercury and other toxic emissions such as arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium and cyanide.
The rule will cost coal mining jobs in West Virginia and lead to higher utility rates, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said.
"This is about re-election politics," she said. "The administration has to appease an environmental lobby that's felt left on the sidelines. If American jobs are lost in the process, apparently that's just collateral damage."
American Electric Power, the parent company of Appalachian Power, which earlier this year announced operations would be curtailed at three plants in West Virginia and the plant in Beverly, Ohio, said the EPA "failed to use all available options to achieve the same environmental benefits while still ensuring electric reliability and avoiding unnecessary costs."
"The approach EPA has included, an administrative order for a fifth year of compliance, appears to create considerable planning uncertainty as a company will not know if it is allowed the additional year until the very beginning of that year," the company said in a statement. "Simply put, the Administration is underestimating the costs and reliability challenges that are created by implementing this rule in such a short period of time."
About The New Rule
The Maximum Achievable Control Technology sets a compliance timetable and lowers mercury emissions levels at power plants. The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule requires utilities to reduce power plant emissions that may cause air-quality complications in neighboring states.
Companies will have three years to comply, although the administration will encourage states to make a fourth year available and case-by-case reviews could also be granted.
The new standards "will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution and provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said. Cost of the rule is about $9.6 billion, the EPA said.
The estimate is too little, American Electric spokesman Jeri Matheny said on Thursday.
"We feel that is an underestimation of what the cost will be," Matheny said.
The power company is reviewing the roughly 1,200-page rule to determine what impact it would have on the plans announced by the utility this summer for the power plants to be closed, she said. However, the main issue remains the timetable for compliance and while a fourth year and possibly a fifth year may be available, the uncertainty is a major concern, Matheny said.
The standard will save lives and create 9,000 more jobs than the jobs lost because of the investment into scrubbing technology at old plants or the construction of new plants fired by cleaner-burning natural gas and prevent 17,000 premature deaths, the EPA said.
"I have serious concerns about the new Clean Air rules being issued by EPA. In fact, I have voted in Congress to prevent their implementation in the near term," Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., said. "The rules are likely to drive up energy prices for American consumers and result in the loss of jobs for coal miners while doing nothing to address the growth in global emissions."
Investment should be made in technology that helps utilities efficiently upgrade plants and burn domestic coal cleaner, he said.
"From the standpoint sufficiency of our energy supply and protection of our global atmosphere, we ought to be looking creatively at coal power, rather than instituting policies that force coal out of our energy sector," he said.
The regulation ignores the impact on jobs and the economy in West Virginia and the nation, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
"The Utility MACT Rule, combined with the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule that was finalized earlier this year, are two of the most expensive regulations ever to be imposed, and every American should be concerned about their effect on energy prices, the reliability of our power supply, our coal mining industry and most importantly our families," Manchin said. "I believe we can find a responsible and reasonable balance when it comes to the environment and our energy needs as a nation."
The cross state rule requires utilities to reduce power plant emissions impacting air-quality in other neighboring states. The rules are favored by the New England states where Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., commended the EPA.
"The Utility Air Toxics Rule to control toxic air pollutants such as mercury is a health and environmental breakthrough for the American people, and especially for Vermonters," he said. "Finally, after 20 years of dodging regulation, coal- and oil-fired electric power plants, the largest contributors of these toxics, will be held accountable for the pollution they emit, just as many other industries are."
The Competitive Enterprise Institute said the EPA failed to fully consult regional transmission organizations that maintain reliability.
"With an annual price tag anywhere from $10 billion (the EPA estimate) to $100 billion (the industry's estimate,) this is one of the most expensive regulations ever," said CEI Energy Policy Analyst William Yeatman. "Its ridiculous justification is to protect pregnant, subsistence fisherwomen who consume more than 300 pounds of self-or family-caught fish annually."