A proposed federal rule to reduce carbon dioxide releases from power plants exceeds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority, will put electrical grids at risk and is unfair in how it would be applied to states, according to comments from the state environmental agency.
The state Department of Environmental Quality submitted its more extensive comments Monday, elaborating on many of the concerns the agency expressed in a September letter to the EPA.
“Quite simply, there is no provision in the (Clean Air) Act — or in any other statute — that gives EPA the authority to fundamentally change the way electricity is dispatched in a state, to require investment in uneconomic (for Louisiana) renewable energy sources, or to mandate programs reducing the demand for electricity,” DEQ Secretary Peggy Hatch wrote.
Known as the Clean Power Plan, the proposed rule was set out for public comment earlier this year as part of a larger Climate Action Plan put forward by President Barack Obama. Carbon dioxide is known as a “greenhouse gas” and contributes to global warming documented through many national and international studies.
One of the big problems with the rule, according to DEQ, is that simply regulating the current industrial practice at power plants isn’t enough to meet the carbon dioxide reduction goal for the state.
Instead, the rule offers options that would dictate how electricity itself is generated and distributed, as well as energy efficiency programs in residential areas, said Bryan Johnston, senior environmental scientist in the DEQ air permits division.
Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is given the power to regulate pollution producers, he said. Distribution lines and home efficiency don’t cause pollution and aren’t within the scope of what EPA can regulate, he said.
However, those were included in the plan because EPA knew it couldn’t get to the carbon dioxide reduction goal it wanted by simply regulating emissions from power plants itself, Johnston said.
“The Clean Air Act allows EPA to control sources of pollution. How electricity is delivered is not a source of pollution,” Johnston said.
For example, one scenario has much more energy production in the state coming from natural gas-fired plants, which burn cleaner than coal. However, the location of those plants, and the location and capacity of transmission lines, would have some areas lacking the capacity to change the energy source or leave others where the new energy source couldn’t be delivered, he said.
EPA maintains that the proposal gives states flexibility to meet reduction goals through energy efficiency programs, improved efficiency at power plants or a switch to cleaner-burning fuel like natural gas.
However, DEQ’s comments outline that never before has EPA dictated how electricity is generated. Instead, previous rules under the Clean Air Act have concentrated on regulating control measures on pollution, not things like energy customers’ use of electricity or transmission lines.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and many other business organizations also have sent comments to EPA in opposition.
“Affordable, reliable energy is the lifeblood of every household, every business and every community in the country, so the member-owners of electric cooperatives view this plan with obvious concern,” the association’s CEO Jo Ann Emerson said in a statement. “It is complex, it is costly and it is a staggering overreach of authority.”
The state Public Service Commission also calls the proposed rule outside EPA’s authority and adds that EPA relied on wrong assumptions when developing the proposed rule.
In its comments to EPA, the commission said the Clean Power Plan “will create undue hardships on Louisiana families through unwarranted electricity bill increases and potential service interruptions.”
Agency leaders from a number of other states have stood in support of the proposal, including 14 states that sent a comment letter to EPA Monday.
“We applaud EPA for developing a proposal that allows states a great deal of flexibility to develop a plan that is tailored to individual circumstances, including ways to build on existing climate and clean energy programs,” wrote Kelly Speakes-Backman, a commissioner with the Maryland Public Service Commission. Other states that signed on to the letter, facilitated by Georgetown Climate Center, include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
“The good news is that our states and others have already demonstrated that it is quite feasible to cost-effectively reduce carbon pollution from the power sector and transition to a cleaner, more efficient electric power system that improves public health and strengthens our economies,” the letter says.
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