October 11, 2011
25 States Ask Court to Shelve 'Utility MACT' rule
Putting more pressure on the Obama administration to back down on new air pollution rules, 25 states have asked a federal court to make U.S. EPA wait a year before finalizing new toxic emissions limits for coal-fired power plants.
The rules, known as "Utility MACT" standards, are scheduled to be finalized next month after two decades of regulatory wrangling. But the group of governors and attorneys general, mainly representing red states, says EPA should keep waiting because the standards could cause electricity rates to rise by 10 or 20 percent in some areas of the country.
"EPA is needlessly rushing forward with a rule that will have potentially serious consequences -- impacting the reliability of [the states'] electricity supply and unnecessarily increasing costs to their businesses and citizens, who will ultimately pay for this regulation," the governors say in a motion with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It asks for an extension of the Nov. 16 deadline for a final rule that was set in response to a lawsuit from the American Nurses Association.
Signing the letter were the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
The motion is part of a broader campaign on Capitol Hill to stop President Obama from coming out with the standards. Last month, the Republican-controlled House passed a bill that would block the toxic emissions rules for at least 15 months.
They were first ordered by Congress when it amended the Clean Air Act in 1990. New pollution limits were supposed to be set after EPA released a study that found health risks from mercury, but the Bill Clinton-era finding was tied up in court.
Federal judges ordered EPA to move forward, but the George W. Bush administration's Clean Air Mercury Rule was thrown out in 2007 for ignoring the 80-plus other toxic chemicals -- acid gases, heavy metals, dioxins -- that are released by coal plants. Rather than being redone, it was handed to President Obama.
Jeff Holmstead, who crafted the Bush-era mercury standards as EPA's air chief, says the new version of the rule is flawed.
"EPA just hasn't done the type of analysis necessary to get the rule right," said Holmstead, who now represents power companies as an attorney at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, in a statement. "In the past, EPA has designed its regulations pretty carefully to make sure that they wouldn't be forcing any facilities to shut down. But now, it looks like there are senior folks at EPA whose main goal is to shut down as many coal-fired power plants as possible."
EPA says there would be huge public health benefits from cleaning up coal plants, which are the largest industrial source of toxic emissions such as mercury. Mercury, a neurotoxin that causes developmental problems in children, can find its way into bodies of water and accumulate in fish tissue, making it unsafe for pregnant women and infants to eat seafood.
The agency has struggled to put a dollar value on the benefits of cleaning up these types of toxic chemicals, but it says that reducing soot alone will save tens of thousands of lives per year, outweighing the costs of the rule by at least 5-to-1.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has downplayed the steadfast opposition from segments of the power industry.
"In contrast to doomsday predictions, history has shown, again and again, that we can clean up pollution, create jobs and grow our economy all at the same time," Jackson told the House Energy and Commerce Committee last month.
Gabriel Nelson, E&E reporter
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