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Clean Power Plan all set for oral arguments; EPA proposes extension of regional haze program

Q2: U.S. Solar and Wind Power by the Numbers

Essential Energy Insights - September 17, 2020

Essential Energy Insights September 2020

Rate case activity slips, COVID-19 proceedings remain at the forefront in August


Clean Power Plan all set for oral arguments; EPA proposes extension of regional haze program

Opponents of the Clean Power Plan have taken their at the U.S. EPA beforethe matter is argued before the courts, taking aim at the changes between the proposedand final versions of the rule. The EPA, too, offered its defense of the rule April 22 for the last time before oralarguments are held June 2.

The coalition of states, industry groups, utilities andother stakeholders say that because the Clean Power Plan changed so dramaticallyfrom the proposed version, released in June 2014, and the final version, releasedin August 2015, the agency failed to provide for a full public comment period.

"The rule is so untethered to what EPA proposed thatno one could have divined the rule EPA finalized — an emission reduction programbased on separate, uniform performance rates for coal- and gas-fired units appliednationwide," the petitioners' brief said. "This violates a bedrock administrativelaw principle — that the final rule, or at least something akin to it, has actuallybeen proposed, so that the public has a meaningful opportunity to comment."

The U.S. EPA has proposed amendments to the regional haze program that would allowstates more time to consider other federal rules that could impact compliance decisions,such as the Clean Power Plan, Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and the NationalAmbient Air Quality Standards for sulfur dioxide and fine particulate matter.

The agency is also proposing a number of meant to ease regulatory burden forstates and to better take into account wildfires and other natural sources of visibilityimpairment that could be skewing data for states.

The proposed amendments, issued April 25, would push backthe deadline for states to submit the second round of state implementation plans,or SIPs, and revise the deadline and requirements for progress reports. States originallyhad to submit their SIPs by July 31, 2018, but will now have until July 31, 2021.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Workers' CompensationPrograms passed a final rule April 25 that will amend and strengthen the regulationsimplementing the Black Lung Benefits Act, providing greater access to medical informationfor miners and ensure benefits are paid before a claim can be challenged.

The rule, which was initiated in 2014, is also expected to "bolster theaccuracy of claims decisions." According to a DOL release, the rule will "all parties to exchangeany medical information that they develop in connection with a claim, even if theydo not intend to submit the information into evidence."

"This rule makes clear that coal miners have a rightto know a full picture of their health. No workers should lose their lives becauseof known dangers that were kept from them in the interest of their employers,"said OWCP Director Leonard Howie.

Opponents of the U.S. EPA's decision to revise the ground-levelozone standard say the agency failed to consider naturally occurring ozone or pollutantsthat drift from other nations in dropping the standard from 75 parts per billionto 70 ppb.

The industry petitionerssay that the EPA did not provide sufficient scientific evidence to show a changein the ozone standard was warranted, and instead relied too much on human exposurestudies that showed health impacts under a 80 ppb standard in just one instance.

Conversely, environmental groups including the Sierra Clubbelieve that the 70 ppbstandard is underprotective and should have been set at 65 ppb. "The standardunlawfully and arbitrarily fails to protect the health of both these and more sensitivepopulations, like asthmatic children, from acknowledged adverse effects," thegroups' brief says.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz disputed claims thatthe Obama administration is waging a "waron coal," and cited President Barack Obama's $6.5 billion proposalfor the development of carbon capture and storage to support his stance, The Charlotte Observer reported April 21.

Aside from the CCS budget proposal, other by the administration in advancingthe "role of coal in a future clean energy economy," include an $8.5 billionin loan guarantees for fossil-fuel projects and a $600 million budget for research,wrote the paper citing the Department of Energy.

An analysisof Clean Power Plan compliance strategies conducted by the West Virginia Departmentof Environmental Protection shows that a national trading program under two separatescenarios would be economically feasible for the state.

"Although there are at least two scenarios in whichcompliance with the EPA's 111(d) rule is feasible from an economic standpoint, compliancewith this rule is not feasible from a legal standpoint," the analysis said.Even though there are some possible economic solutions, state law prohibits thestate from mandating fuel-switching at power plants or limiting a plant's performance.The DEP would also need authorization to request a two-year extension to completea state plan.

U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says the Clean PowerPlan could provide opportunities for rural electric cooperatives to partner withlarger utilities to develop renewable energy.

McCarthy testified at a Senate appropriations subcommitteehearing April 20 on the agency's budget request. The senators mostly used the hearingas an opportunity to question McCarthy on various environmental issues and regulationsimportant to their districts.

For Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the issue was the impact ofthe Clean Power Plan on communities served by rural electric cooperatives.

Blunt said cooperatives tend to serve areas with lower-incomeresidents, with service territories that cover as much as 70% of the country's geography.Any electric rate increases resulting from the carbon rule could be particularlyacute to these counties.

Analyses of possible rate increases caused by the carbonrule have varied; the EPA itself said the average electric customer will see a ratecut of about 7% by 2030. Conversely, a study commissioned by the National MiningAssociation predicteda rate increase of $214 billion between 2022 and 2030, and a similar analysis fromthe American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity calculated a rate hike of about 11% to 14% from 2022 through2033.

Republican lawmakers have flopped in their latest attemptto thwart the U.S. EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Clean Water Rule.

The U.S. Senate on April 21 voted 56-42 in favor of anamendment from Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., that would block federal funding for therule. The motion fell short of the 60-vote threshold needed to attach the amendmentto the Senate's fiscal-year 2017 energy and water budget bill. Environmental groupswere relieved by the amendment's narrow defeat.

"Today big polluters and their allies in Congresslaunched yet another failed attack on the EPA and Army Corps' Clean Water Rule,which restores important safeguards for the small streams that feed into the drinkingwater supply of one in three Americans," League of Conservation Voters legislativerepresentative Madeleine Foote said.