Another War of Jenkins' Ear

Resist The Pointless

Posts Tagged ‘Energy

The Republican Party Platform on Nuclear Safety

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via tonight’s Real Time:

The lesson, of course, is that if you say things like this that David Gregory will never not have you on his show.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 18, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Thinking About the EPA Power Plant Rule

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Today, the EPA issues a new rule regarding power plants, aimed at regulating levels of ” of heavy metals, including mercury (Hg),arsenic, chromium, and nickel, and acid gases, including hydrogen chloride (HCl)  and hydrogen fluoride (HF).” Mercury is the headliner, here.

This is one salvo in a decades long war to clean up the emissions from power plants. The New York Times explains:

The new rules bring to a close a bitter legal and regulatory battle dating back to the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, which first directed the E.P.A. to identify and control major industrial sources of hazardous air emissions.

By 1990, however, federal regulators had still not set standards for toxic emissions from power plants, and Congress, in the face of stiff resistance from utilities and coal interests, passed legislation directing the E.P.A. to develop a plan to regulate the industry. In 1998, the agency finally complied, delivering a comprehensive report to Congress detailing the health impacts of numerous pollutants, including mercury, which by then had been linked conclusively in numerous studies to serious cognitive harm to developing fetuses.

In December 2000, in the final days of the Clinton administration, the E.P.A. finally listed power plants as a source of hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Yet under the Bush administration, the effort to control power plant emissions would again falter.

The 2000 listing required E.P.A. to implement standards for mercury and other pollutants from the industry. But rather than comply, the agency made the controversial decision in 2005 to delist power plants as sources of hazardous pollution.

Jonathan Adler three years ago better explained the abject failure of the EPA under the Bush Administration to follow the statutory guidelines:

On December 20, 2000, as the Clinton Administration was coming to a close, the EPA listed coal-fired utilities as a source of mercury emissions under Section 112(c) of the Clean Air Act (CAA), a decision that would require regulating mercury emissions as hazardous air pollutants under the Act. The Bush Administration did not agree with this approach to controlling mercury emissions, preferring a less stringent and more flexible regulatory strategy than that contemplated by the Clinton Administration. So in 2004 the Bush EPA sought to chart a different course — one that would rely upon a voluntary cap-and-trade regime rather than stringent technology-based controls — and that’s where the problems began.

Section 112(c)(9) of the CAA only allows the EPA to delist a pollution source once the agency makes specific findings. Specifically, 112(c)(9) requires the EPA to determine that “emissions from no source in the category . . . exceed a level which is adequate to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety and no adverse environmental effect will result from emissions from any source.” This is a difficult standard to meet in any case, particularly so in the case of mercury. Yet rather than try and comply with this standard, and make the requisite findings, the EPA instead contended that it did not need to comply with the plain language of the law, prompting the D.C. Circuit to compare the agency’s reasoning to that employed by Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts.

Adler further links to John Walke of the NRDC deconstructing that case, New Jersey v. EPA. It’s worth a read as well. Walke today updated with another longer background of the case, here. Pete Altman, also of NRDC, adds two useful slides showing where the power plants in question are and what percentage of toxics in the air they admit.

For a succinct summary of the rule from the EPA, with estimated benefits and costs, please see here.

So now, I need to add my part in. I have two salient observations.

One observation is to compare this with the radiation threat ongoing in Japan. There’s a number of ways insight can be gleaned. First, is that as Matt Yglesias notes, opposition to nuclear should not mean a further embrace of fossil fuels. Yglesias frames this mostly in relation to climate change, but it’s worth noting that fossil fuels contaminate the environment and have external costs on society in more traditional manners as well. Moreover,  every single fossil fuel power plant has these external costs. In contrast, only a fraction of nuclear power plants do. That’s not to defend nuclear but rather to contextualize it in comparison.

The second observation is the limit of the Clean Air Act section 112. There’s no confusion in the law that this is required.

Section 112 (b) requires pollutants to be regulated if they “present, or may present, through inhalation or other routes of exposure, a threat of adverse human health effects (including, but not limited to, substances which are known to be, or may reasonably be anticipated to be, carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, neurotoxic, which cause reproductive dysfunction, or which are acutely or chronically toxic) or adverse environmental effects whether through ambient concentrations, bioaccumulation, deposition, or otherwise….” Not even the Bush Administration contested that regarding mercury – they just tried to find a way around it (see above regarding their massive failure to do so).

The meat of these regulations are in Section 112 (d), indeed it is too long to quote, but the key part is that Section 112(d)(2) does allow the EPA Administrator to take cost into consideration when weighing the benefits. (Not all regulations do allow that). As such, I think this is a more precarious ruling than I would prefer: if a GOP Administration were in place, it would almost certainly be gutted on the basis of cost, with softer regulations put in place (but still, more than the Bush EPA did, which was essentially nothing).

In short, these rules are good, but with a 5 year implementation plan and a seemingly high yearly cost (over 10 billion), it will only hold up if Democrats and independents fight to hold it up. Because rest assured, the right is going to come after this hard, accusing it of raising energy costs on everyone, and raising government spending. The latter is true, and the former is not. It does not raise energy costs, but rather recognizes that there are already external costs to the energy that exists. Even if sometimes those costs are reported in very annoying ways.


Written by John Whitehouse

March 16, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Astroturfing Full Blown … On Energy Bill

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Fake opposition, ho!

The new letters bring to nine the number of nonprofit organizations whose identities were appropriated byBonner & Associates, a Washington lobbying firm that says it specializes in developing grass-roots support for lobbying campaigns.

Jack Bonner, the lobbying firm’s founder, has said a temporary employee was responsible for the fake letters and has been fired.

There’s more at the link.

While health care opposition is getting more attention, it’s notable that because energy is now a second tier issue, and not one that Democrats or Republicans feel as strongly about as health care, that Congress is on it’s own in writing the legislation. For liberals, that’s not ideal … but it’s acceptable while they’re focused elsewhere (and that the EPA may have the authority to implement cap and trade on their own, though no one really favors that option). Conservative lobbyists have a massive hurdle in that there’s so many Democrats, and relatively fewer handouts available to be given out due to the economy (though I do expect a corporate friendly bill). Thus, for those who want to stop any bill, extra effort is required. It’s no surprise that because the conservative noise machine is busy elsewhere (you’re not going to see Palin draw attention to energy in the next month) that a lobbying group is taking over the top actions.

I’m going to take the firm at its word that this was an isolated incident (it’s a pretty stupid plan). But it does show the desperation that’s setting in against even corporate-friendly energy reform that liberals find generally unsatisfying.

Written by John Whitehouse

August 18, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Posted in Politics

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