Coal Tattoo

Groups challenge Obama EPA’s air pollution delays

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This just in:

Several groups today filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue letter against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the agency’s failure to identify communities throughout the nation that have unhealthy levels of ozone air pollution. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to formally identify the areas that are not meeting the ozone standards set in 2008 which limits ozone in the air to 75 parts per billion (ppb). Identifying these areas is essential to triggering clean-up plans for those regions with unsafe pollution levels.

Based on recent data, regions that should be designated as violating standards include Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Los Angeles; Sacramento; San Diego; San Francisco; Dallas; New York City; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Atlanta; and more than two dozen additional communities across the United States. The EPA was originally required by law to identify these areas by March 12, 2010, in a formal process called designating nonattainment areas. It missed that legal deadline. While the agency granted itself a one-year extension for designating ozone nonattainment areas, until March 12, 2011, it also failed to meet this deadline.

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Later this week, the House is set for a series of votes aimed at delaying several major air pollution rules, mandates inter-agency economic studies of such rules, and seriously erode EPA’s ability to cut back on toxic air pollutants.

The Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act of 2011 is backed by Republicans, including Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley of West Virginia.

But contrary to complaints from the GOP and regulated industry that the EPA rules would harm the economy, a new report out this week from the Economic Policy Institute says:

… The regulations formulated by the Obama Administration will be of tremendous benefit to public health, and the combined compliance cost of the rules – both finalized and proposed – amounts to only about 0.1 percent of the economy, and thus are not a significant factor in the overall economy’s direction.

According to the report:

The Combined Effect of the Obama EPA Rules calculates the dollar value of the benefits and costs of new EPA rules, expressed in 2010 dollars, including the following:

* Setting aside the Cross-State Air Pollution rule, the combined annual benefits from all final major rules exceed their costs by $10 billion to $95 billion a year. The benefit/cost ratio ranges from 2-to-1 to 20-to-1.

— The net benefits from the Cross-State Air Pollution rule exceed $100 billion a year (this rule is treated separately because benefits accruing from action under the Bush administration and the Obama administration cannot be disentangled).

— The combined annual benefits from three major proposed rules examined here exceed their costs by $62 billion to $188 billion a year. The benefit/cost ratio ranges from 6-to-1 to 15-to-1.

— When fully in effect in 2014, the combined costs of the major rules finalized by the Obama administration’s EPA would amount to significantly less than 0.1% of the economy.

— Assuming the proposed rules are also finalized, when fully in effect in 2016 the combined costs of the major EPA rules finalized and proposed so far under the Obama administration would amount to about 0.13% of the economy.

Pay attention this week, and see if your local news coverage of the House debate discusses these conclusions …

As the nation waits to hear more details of President Obama’s new jobs plan, the National Mining Association sought today to inject its own agenda into the mix — issuing a news release criticizing the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign:

On the eve of the president’s address to the nation on job creation, a new report shows potentially 1.24 million jobs in 36 states have been destroyed by the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign aimed at stopping coal-based power plants. The finding, from an analysis released today by the National Mining Association (NMA), shows that while the Sierra Club boasts of stopping coal plant projects it is also destroying high-wage jobs for American workers in a struggling economy.

Aside from its news release, the NMA made public just two charts (see here and here) from the analysis, but said:

Applying coal plant employment data from the U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) to the Sierra Club’s own claims of halted power plant construction, the analysis shows Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign has targeted for destruction 116,872 permanent jobs and an additional 1.12 million construction jobs represented by the power plants they have prevented from being built. Examples include Illinois, where proposed power plants could have supported 126,612 total jobs there and in surrounding states, and Texas, where blocked power plant construction represented 122,065 total jobs and where potential shortages of electric power exists today.

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President Obama blocks EPA smog standards

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Here’s the White House statement:

Over the last two and half years, my administration, under the leadership of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, has taken some of the strongest actions since the enactment of the Clean Air Act four decades ago to protect our environment and the health of our families from air pollution. From reducing mercury and other toxic air pollution from outdated power plants to doubling the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks, the historic steps we’ve taken will save tens of thousands of lives each year, remove over a billion tons of pollution from our air, and produce hundreds of billions of dollars in benefits for the American people.

At the same time, I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover. With that in mind, and after careful consideration, I have requested that Administrator Jackson withdraw the draft Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards at this time. Work is already underway to update a 2006 review of the science that will result in the reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013. Ultimately, I did not support asking state and local governments to begin implementing a new standard that will soon be reconsidered.

I want to be clear: my commitment and the commitment of my administration to protecting public health and the environment is unwavering. I will continue to stand with the hardworking men and women at the EPA as they strive every day to hold polluters accountable and protect our families from harmful pollution. And my administration will continue to vigorously oppose efforts to weaken EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act or dismantle the progress we have made.

Read more here, here and here.

We’ve previously gone over here on Coal Tattoo the Congressional Research Service report that debunked the notion that EPA’s series of air pollution regulatory actions amount to some sort of  “train wreck” for the nation’s energy system.

Now, there’s an interesting report out from PJM Interconnection — the folks who manage the regional power grid — that examines the potential impact of EPA’s proposals on their operations.

The bottom line:

Even with almost 7,000 MW less coal capacity clearing for the 2014/2015 Delivery Year, PJM estimates the RTO will carry a reserve margin of 19.6 percent for the Delivery Year, including the demand and capacity commitments of FRR entities. Even with the potential retirement of coal capacity already announced by FRR entities, there are also announced commitments to replace a portion of that capacity with new gas-fired capacity such that the RTO would still carry a reserve margin at or above of the target 15.3 percent installed reserve margin. Add into the mix the potential for new entry from Demand Resources, as has been the trend in recent years, and resource adequacy does not appear to be threatened.

Thanks to Bill Howley at The Power Line blog, who brought this report to my attention and to Keryn Newman, who apparently brought it to Bill’s attention through a piece in the StopPathWV blog.

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The big announcement is coming later this morning, but NPR’s Elizabeth Shogren had the scoop already:

The Sierra Club is getting a big boost in its effort to shut down coal-fired power plants. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is supporting the organization’s efforts with a donation of $50 million. The plants produce nearly half the nation’s electricity. But they also pump out lots of pollution that contributes to climate change, makes people sick and causes premature deaths.

Once efforts to embargo the story were out the window, The Washington Post went with their story, reporting:

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune described the gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies, which will be spread out over four years, as “a game-changer, from our perspective.” The group will devote the money to its “Beyond Coal” campaign, which has helped block the construction of 153 new coal-fired power plants across the country since 2002.

Bloomberg and Sierra Club officials were to appear together later this morning outside a coal-fired plant in Alexandria, Va., for the announcement.

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A new report out this morning from the Natural Resources Defense Council concludes:

Residents of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida live in states with the most toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants, according to an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The study used publicly-available data in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). The analysis, entitled “Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States” was jointly released today by NRDC and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR).

Among the key findings of the report:

— Nearly half of all the toxic air pollution reported from industrial sources in the United States comes from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

— Power plants are the single largest industrial source of toxic air pollution in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

In a press release, the NRDC said:

Despite the health benefits of reducing toxic pollution from power plants, some polluters and members of Congress are seeking to block EPA’s efforts to update public health protections. Last week, two House Committees voted for amendments by Ed Whitfield (R-KY)/Mike Ross (D-AR) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) to block for at least a year the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics standard. These amendments could move to the House floor as early as this week.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton (R-MI) has vowed to block EPA’s clean air safeguards. One of the nation’s biggest polluters, American Electric Power (AEP) based in Columbus, Ohio has drafted legislation to block the EPA and has argued against EPA’s current efforts.

Regarding West Virginia, the report said:

West Virginia’s electric sector ranked EIGHTH in toxic air pollution in 2009, emitting nearly 21.5 million pounds of harmful chemicals, which accounted for 84% of state pollution and 6% of toxic pollution from all U.S. power plants.

I was starting to think that maybe my good friend Sen. Joe Manchin was on vacation … I mean, hours and hours went by after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its final rules to combat cross-state air pollution, and Sen. Manchin hadn’t issued a news release yet.

So I was relieved when the release from Manchin’s overactive press office finally reached my inbox at nearly 7 p.m. last evening:

“The continued jobs-destroying overreach of the EPA is outrageous, and it’s incomprehensible that in these difficult economic times, the Administration would be so callous as to arbitrarily impose onerous rules that they know will cost countless American jobs and raise the daily costs of life for so many struggling families,” Senator Manchin said. “Once again, the EPA is taking aim at the coal industry, small businesses and the hardworking families who help power and build this nation.

“As I have said before, it’s time the EPA realizes that it cannot regulate what has not been legislated. Our government was designed so that elected representatives are in charge of making important decisions, not bureaucrats. That principle is even more true today when the American people see the consequences of the EPA making rules that affect our whole country and could hurt our fragile economy.”

Sen. Manchin never fails to disappoint … but come on now. Arbitrarily impose onerous rules? EPA can’t regulate what hasn’t been legislated? I wonder if Sen. Manchin doesn’t need to get some better staff work done, or if he’s just trying to misstate things in his zeal to show his allegiance to the coal industry.

Maybe Sen. Manchin disagrees with EPA’s rationale for this final rule. But he doesn’t offer one bit of evidence to support his allegation that it’s being arbitrarily imposed. EPA officials outlined their reasoning pretty clearly right here on the agency’s website. And trying to regulate what hasn’t been legislated? Seriously? Perhaps Sen. Manchin needs to go back and actually read the Clean Air Act.

Congress already gave EPA authority under the Clean Air Act’s “good neighbor” provision to to cut down interstate pollution that interferes with the attainment and maintenance of the national ambient air quality standards protecting public health. That’s in section 110(a)(2)(D)(i)(I) of the law, Senator. It’s one thing if Sen. Manchin wants to discuss or disagree with the actual way in which EPA is writing these rules, but he’s not doing that — he’s making incorrect statements about what authority EPA has and doesn’t have under laws already passed by Congress.

And that leads me to EPA, and that agency’s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson. While reading Sen. Manchin’s statement, I couldn’t help but think about the brief discussion I had with Administrator Jackson earlier yesterday during a press conference call about those EPA air pollution rules.

When EPA issued its initial press release, this part of it jumped out at me:

“No community should have to bear the burden of another community’s polluters, or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses. These Clean Air Act safeguards will help protect the health of millions of Americans and save lives by preventing smog and soot pollution from traveling hundreds of miles and contaminating the air they breathe,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “By maximizing flexibility and leveraging existing technology, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will help ensure that American families aren’t suffering the consequences of pollution generated far from home, while allowing states to decide how best to decrease dangerous air pollution in the most cost effective way.”

Now wait a second, I thought … another community’s polluters“? Now, in this case,  that means at least partly all of the coal-fired power plants that line the Ohio River Valley … in places like Moundsville and New Haven in West Virginia. Missing from EPA’s statement was any recognition that those power plants aren’t there just so that the evil coal companies and utilities and arbitrarily send pollution over to big cities or suburbs on the East Coast. Those power plants are there to give those city folks electricity to run their iPhones and their air conditioners.

So it seemed to me that the folks enjoying the benefits of that “cheap electricity” from coal aren’t exactly powerless to do anything about the pollution that drifts their way from the coalfields. One thing they could do, for example, is to demand from that their political leaders push for other, cleaner forms of energy. Of course, some folks in those communities are doing that.

And Lisa P. Jackson is a smart, educated and very capable woman. So it surprised me when she repeated almost that same statement from EPA’s press release in her conference call with the media. I perhaps foolishly assumed that Administrator Jackson understood the connection between coal-fired power plant pollution and the “cheap electricity” she and her neighbors to our east take advantage of every day.

When it came my turn to ask a question, I decided to put this issue on the table, and see what she had to say. My question went something like this:

… As you know a lot of this pollution that this rule is aimed at is produced generating electricity and other goods and services for people who don’t live where the pollution is actually produced. And I’m wondering what your agency is doing to follow up on its promise that it would work with areas like the coalfields of Appalachian to provide alternative economies and alternative jobs to replace those that might be impacted by these sorts of rules.

I was amazed when Administrator Jackson responded by telling everybody on the call that I didn’t understand the issue at hand. She said:

Just to clarify for everybody … this is a rule that talks about upwind and downwind air pollution. So it’s actually sort of the opposite of what you asked, with respect to air, what we’re trying to do is ensure is that someone who is generating pollution upwind isn’t causing a place downwind to be out of attainment for ozone or SO2, and therefore making people unhealthy in a state that has no ability through their permit process to do anything about it.

She went on:

Now, there are other forms of local pollution, and since I know your issues are … you know, water pollution, or land pollution from waste disposal, those are being addressed separately.

Actually, Administrator Jackson, if your staff ever show you a copy of Coal Tattoo or of the Gazette, you’ll see we are concerned about quite a lot of issues about the coal industry … We’ve covered your agency’s efforts regarding greenhouse gas emissions and the recent proposal to for the first time regulate air toxics from coal-fired power plants. And we understand what you’re up to with the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

But it’s also clear from statements put out by folks like Sen. Manchin that your agency has a tough fight on its hands from the coal industry’s powerful political friends. And the folks who work at coal mines and power plants in places like Mingo and Mason counties in West Virginia have a right to straight talk from you and others in the Obama administration about how cleaning up coal pollution will affect their lives, including their jobs.

We’ve tried on this blog and in our newspaper to explain to readers in West Virginia the downside of coal, and all of the ways that EPA’s regulatory proposals might help to curb the negative impacts of this industry.

But it’s also true that your agency, on behalf of your boss, President Obama, made a very clear promise to the people of the coalfields two years ago:

Federal agencies will work in coordination with appropriate regional, state and local entities to help diversify and strengthen the Appalachian regional economy and promote the health and welfare of Appalachian communities.

Sure, that promise was made in the context of EPA’s announced crackdown on mountaintop removal permits. But it clearly is a commitment that must go beyond that, to helping communities — places that helped for generations to make our country strong — that are likely to see job losses from new air pollution, water pollution and greenhouse gas limits on coal. These aren’t separate issues. They’re all connected, and I’m sure that Lisa Jackson knows and understands that.

Administrator Jackson did go on to talk about the notion of “green jobs” a bit in response to my question:

In terms of what the administration is doing to try to help communities justly transition to cleaner forms of energy, I can just repeat the fact that this administration, this president has from the beginning said that there is great opportunity in greener, cleaner forms of energy. It’s better for our health, it’s better for our security, it’s better for our environment. He has shepherded and stewarded everything form the recovery act which had tens of billions of dollars in investment in cleaner form of energy, including a carbon capture and storage project right in West Virginia at, I think it’s an AEP plant, Mountaineer. So you know, whether it’s the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, whether it’s been work through our clean water programs to help communities finance and deal with water pollution, whether it’s working with labor unions and others, boilermakers and others who will get work when plants have to control their pollution and do it here in America. I think this administration has policies that make good on what we’ve all talked about, which is we should invest in our energy infrastructure just like we invest in our other infrastructure. It makes our country cleaner, it makes our economy stronger, and it makes our people healthier, and as you can see from these estimates, we’re not talking about small amounts of health improvements. We’re talking about saving lives, and literally changing people’s ability to enjoy the life they have.

But you’ll notice that the one West Virginia example she mentioned is one in which the work is meant to help keep the coal industry viable in a carbon-constrained world — not one aimed at helping transition folks who might lose coal-based jobs into something else with more of a future.

It’s been two years since the crackdown on mountaintop removal was announced. We’re half-way through the third year of President Obama’s term. Perhaps it’s time for someone like Lisa Jackson to visit West Virginia, and tell us more about exactly how the coalfields can join in the clean, green energy future she keeps talking about.

EPA announces new smog limits

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This just in from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

WASHINGTON – Building on the Obama Administration’s strong record of protecting the public’s health through common-sense clean air standards – including proposed standards to reduce emissions of mercury and other air toxics, as well as air quality standards for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized additional Clean Air Act protections that will slash hundreds of thousands of tons of smokestack emissions that travel long distances through the air leading to soot and smog, threatening the health of hundreds of millions of Americans living downwind. The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will protect communities that are home to 240 million Americans from smog and soot pollution, preventing up to 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 19,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 1.8 million sick days a year beginning in 2014 – achieving up to $280 billion in annual health benefits. Twenty seven states in the eastern half of the country will work with power plants to cut air pollution under the rule, which leverages widely available, proven and cost-effective control technologies. Ensuring flexibility, EPA will work with states to help develop the most appropriate path forward to deliver significant reductions in harmful emissions while minimizing costs for utilities and consumers.

“No community should have to bear the burden of another community’s polluters, or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses. These Clean Air Act safeguards will help protect the health of millions of Americans and save lives by preventing smog and soot pollution from traveling hundreds of miles and contaminating the air they breathe,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “By maximizing flexibility and leveraging existing technology, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will help ensure that American families aren’t suffering the consequences of pollution generated far from home, while allowing states to decide how best to decrease dangerous air pollution in the most cost effective way.”

Carried long distances across the country by wind and weather, power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) continually travel across state lines. As the pollution is transported, it reacts in the atmosphere and contributes to harmful levels of smog (ground-level ozone) and soot (fine particles), which are scientifically linked to widespread illnesses and premature deaths and prevent many cities and communities from enjoying healthy air quality.

The rule will improve air quality by cutting SO2 and NOx emissions that contribute to pollution problems in other states. By 2014, the rule and other state and EPA actions will reduce SO2 emissions by 73 percent from 2005 levels. NOx emissions will drop by 54 percent. Following the Clean Air Act’s “Good Neighbor” mandate to limit interstate air pollution, the rule will help states that are struggling to protect air quality from pollution emitted outside their borders, and it uses an approach that can be applied in the future to help areas continue to meet and maintain air quality health standards.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule replaces and strengthens the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered EPA to revise in 2008. The court allowed CAIR to remain in place temporarily while EPA worked to finalize today’s replacement rule.

The rule will protect over 240 million Americans living in the eastern half of the country, resulting in up to $280 billion in annual benefits. The benefits far outweigh the $800 million projected to be spent annually on this rule in 2014 and the roughly $1.6 billion per year in capital investments already underway as a result of CAIR. EPA expects pollution reductions to occur quickly without large expenditures by the power industry. Many power plants covered by the rule have already made substantial investments in clean air technologies to reduce SO2 and NOx emissions. The rule will level the playing field for power plants that are already controlling these emissions by requiring more facilities to do the same. In the states where investments in control technology are required, health and environmental benefits will be substantial.

The rule will also help improve visibility in state and national parks while better protecting sensitive ecosystems, including Appalachian streams, Adirondack lakes, estuaries, coastal waters, and forests. In a supplemental rulemaking based on further review and analysis of air quality information, EPA is also proposing to require sources in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin to reduce NOX emissions during the summertime ozone season. The proposal would increase the total number of states covered by the rule from 27 to 28. Five of these six states are covered for other pollutants under the rule. The proposal is open for public review and comment for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register.


AEP, EPA and the costs of coal pollution

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Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce, Kanawha River Plant

Last week’s announcement of potential plant closures by American Electric Power continued to get attention this week here locally and in Washington, D.C. — where EPA Administrator took on AEP directly, telling a congressional committee:

… While Americans across the country suffer from this pollution, special interests who are trying to gut long-standing public health protections are now going so far as to claim that these pollutants aren’t even harmful. These myths are being perpetrated by some of the same lobbyists who have in the past testified before Congress about the importance of reducing mercury and particulate matter. Now on behalf of their clients, they’re saying the exact opposite.

I pointed out earlier what a poor job many in the local media did in covering this story, and at least one of those media outlets — West Virginia MetroNews — must have been reading. Because they actually gave EPA its say (a week late):

Federal EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told members of a congressional committee Wednesday her agency plans to continue to make its public health decisions on the principles of “the law and the best science.”

“Over the 40-year history of the Clean Air Act our GDP has grown 200 percent. So if history is any guide, we can do this,” Jackson said. “We can have safer, healthier air and have a growing economy.”

Not for nothing, but it’s not like EPA is all that effective in defending itself in these situations. I spent much of the week trying to get someone from EPA to do a phone interview about how some of these plant closings may have been driven by an AEP court settlement over long-standing pollution violations. So far, nobody from EPA has agreed to an interview.

Outside of West Virginia, there’s been a somewhat different reaction to the AEP announcement.  For example, The National Journal ran a piece headlined, Power company contradicts itself on EPA rules, reporting:

American Electric Power, one of the nation’s biggest coal utilities, downplayed the impact of EPA regulations to its investors while forecasting a doom-and-gloom outcome for Washington policymakers.

Sound familiar? It’s the same game that the coal-mining industry played with EPA’s crackdown on mountaintop removal permits, as we reported here on Coal Tattoo a year and a half ago.

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Ignoring inconvenient facts on AEP announcement

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Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce

The Gazette’s late publisher, Ned Chilton, was know for his criticism of what he called West Virginia’s “insipid press,” local newspapers that didn’t question the actions of local politicians and powerful institutions.

I’ve thought of this as I’ve read through the predictable follow-up from the usual characters after American Electric Power’s announcement last week that it might move up the date for closing three West Virginia power plants if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalizes new rules to reduce hazardous air pollution from such facilities.

A few examples:

— The Bluefield Daily Telegraph wrote —

One must look no further than last week’s stunning announcement from American Electric Power for further proof of the out-of-control, job-killing agenda of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

— My buddy Hoppy Kercheval at MetroNews opined

… This rogue EPA pushes ahead with regulatory zeal, either oblivious or arrogantly dismissive of the disruption it’s causing.

— The Charleston Daily Mail editorialized

The irony of having policymakers sit in air-conditioned offices and pricing air-conditioning out of the budgets of so many homes elsewhere is lost on today’s public administrators.

The really disappointing thing here, though, was that the Daily Mail’s very lengthy news story on the AEP announcement made little or no effort to explain the reasons for the EPA’s regulatory proposal. No mention of the respiratory illnesses and early deaths the rule was aimed at reducing. No mention of the huge hidden costs of continuing to rely on coal for supposed “cheap electricity.” Daily Mail readers had to wait for George Hohmann’s column in the Sunday paper to get a mention of this, and even then it was noted only as kind of an odd afterthought in describing the AEP news release:

… The utility didn’t mention the health and environmental benefits to be derived from the EPA rules. Others will make that case.

Those “others” certainly won’t be any of our state’s elected officials or major political figures. They were falling all over themselves to get out press releases depicting the AEP announcement as another result of the Obama administration’s “war on coal.”

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EPA response to AEP plant announcement

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Here’s a statement just issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in response to yesterday’s announcement by American Electric Power:

These long-overdue Clean Air Act standards will slash hazardous emissions of mercury and other acid gases, preventing thousands of asthma and heart attacks and premature deaths. Utilities have known for decades that these standards – which are still in the proposal stage and have a built-in 3 year compliance timeline, have been coming for decades. They also know that they are free to approach EPA with serious, fact-based compliance plans, and that state governments also have the ability under the law to seek more time for the plants in their jurisdictions. The standards leverage existing American-made pollution control technologies that are already deployed at over half of the nation’s coal and oil-fired power plants – and will result in thousands of jobs across the country as workers install the technologies at plants.

In light of yesterday’s announcement by American Electric Power about the potential closure of five of its coal-fired power plants, there’s a fascinating new report out from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The report, called Air Quality: Information on Tall Smokestacks and Their Contribution to Interstate Transport of Air Pollution, discusses the notion of using ever-taller emissions stacks to disperse pollution, rather than installing emissions control equipment to actually reduce that pollution.

GAO investigators found:

According to analysis of EIA data, which were updated with GAO’s survey results, a total of 284 tall smokestacks were operating at 172 coal power plants in 34 states, as of December 31, 2010. Of these stacks, 207 are 500 to 699 feet tall, 63 are 700 to 999 feet tall, and the remaining 14 are 1,000 feet tall or higher. About one-third of these stacks are concentrated in 5 states along the Ohio River Valley. While about half of tall stacks began operating more than 30 years ago, there has been an increase in the number of tall stacks that began operating in the last 4 years, which air and utility officials attributed to the need for new stacks when plants installed pollution control equipment.

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This announcement just out from American Electric Power, in response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules to reduce hazardous air pollutant emissions from power plants:

Based on the regulations as proposed, AEP’s compliance plan would retire nearly 6,000 megawatts (MW) of coal-fueled power generation; upgrade or install new advanced emissions reduction equipment on another 10,100 MW; refuel 1,070 MW of coal generation as 932 MW of natural gas capacity; and build 1,220 MW of natural gas-fueled generation. The cost of AEP’s compliance plan could range from $6 billion to $8 billion in capital investment through the end of the decade.

Specifically, the AEP release says:

— AEP’s current plan for compliance with the rules as proposed includes permanently retiring the following coal-fueled power plants:

— Glen Lyn Plant, Glen Lyn, Va. – 335 MW (retired by Dec. 31, 2014);

— Kammer Plant, Moundsville, W.Va. – 630 MW (retired by Dec. 31, 2014) (pictured above)

— Kanawha River Plant, Glasgow, W.Va. – 400 MW (retired by Dec. 31, 2014);

— Phillip Sporn Plant, New Haven, W.Va. – 1,050 MW (450 MW expected to retire in 2011, 600 MW retired by Dec. 31, 2014); and

— Picway Plant, Lockbourne, Ohio – 100 MW (retired by Dec. 31, 2014).

Now, much of this isn’t really news … AEP had previously announced plans to retire about 5,000 megawatts of coal-fired generation over the next five years (see here and here).

AEP added today, though, that:

Although some jobs would be created from the installation of emissions reduction equipment, AEP expects a net loss of approximately 600 power plant jobs with annual wages totaling approximately $40 million as a result of compliance with the proposed EPA rules.

But here’s what is really interesting … AEP Chairman Michael Morris in the company’s press release criticizes the EPA plans and the resulting changes to his company’s power mix:

We support regulations that achieve long-term environmental benefits while protecting customers, the economy and the reliability of the electric grid, but the cumulative impacts of the EPA’s current regulatory path have been vastly underestimated, particularly in Midwest states dependent on coal to fuel their economies. We have worked for months to develop a compliance plan that will mitigate the impact of these rules for our customers and preserve jobs, but because of the unrealistic compliance timelines in the EPA proposals, we will have to prematurely shut down nearly 25 percent of our current coal-fueled generating capacity, cut hundreds of good power plant jobs, and invest billions of dollars in capital to retire, retrofit and replace coal-fueled power plants. The sudden increase in electricity rates and impacts on state economies will be significant at a time when people and states are still struggling.

But, check out AEP’s 2011 Corporate Accountability Report, where the company brags about how it will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions:

AEP expects to reduce GHG emissions by an additional 10 percent by 2020 from 2010 levels. In 2010, AEP emitted 134 million metric tons of GHGs from its plants. This will result in a total reduction of approximately 25 percent from 2003 levels, the first year of our CCX commitment.

We will, however, achieve additional GHG reductions as we retire older, less efficient coal units and replace them with new natural gas and/or renewable generation, where supported. Under the EPA’s proposed Transport, Coal Combustion Residuals and Hazardous Air Pollutant rules, AEP may be forced to retire a significant amount of older coal-fired generation in the next several years. The industry as a whole may retire between 50 gigawatts and 100 gigawatts. Some of that generation most likely will be replaced with natural gas plants, which emit about half the carbon dioxide of coal combustion plants.

Oddly enough, today’s news release contained no mention of climate change, or the potential greenhouse gas emissions that might be reduced by these coal plant retirements.

And remember, as we’ve written on this blog before:

EPA believes its proposal will provide $59 billion a year in benefits and save 17,000 lives, while costing just $10.9 billion a year — and creating 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term utility jobs.

It’s also interesting to contrast the tone of the AEP news release to that of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s announcement in April about its plans to retire 2,700 megawatts of coal-fired units:

The Tennessee Valley Authority announced plans Thursday to retire 18 older coal-fired generation units at three power plants as part of the federal utility’s vision of being one of the nation’s leading providers of low-cost and cleaner energy by 2020.

President and CEO Tom Kilgore told the TVA board of directors, meeting in Chattanooga, that replacing older and less-economical generation with cleaner sources also is in alignment with recommendations in the utility’s Integrated Resource Plan as well as the utility’s vision for cleaner air.

Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, addresses a labor rally of Friday, April 1, 2011 in Waynesburg, Pa.(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Say what you want about my friend United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts, but you pretty much always know where he stands.

Except when he writes op-eds like the one in today’s Gazette, in which he makes like a Chamber of Commerce leader and slams the Obama administration’s effort to keep reducing deadly pollution from coal-fired power plants:

Just as our economy is beginning to climb out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a variety of new rules that will inevitably lead to large-scale unemployment and massive rate hikes over the next several years.

… Tens of thousands of jobs will be lost in the utility, coal and transportation sectors. Hundreds of communities will suffer as their tax bases shrink with the closure of nearby utility plants. Industrial states that were hit hard by the recession and still suffering from high unemployment will take another, needless hit.

Now, there are folks in the regional and environmental community who will immediately jump on this as typical stuff from the UMWA. These folks remain increasingly bitter that Cecil Roberts won’t join their fight to stop all mountaintop removal (or maybe all surface coal-mining).

That wouldn’t be fair.

Maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic. All of the publicity about the upcoming march to urge protection of Blair Mountain reminds me of when I met Cecil, more than 20 years ago.

It was the summer of 1989. Cecil was vice president of the union, leading its strike against Pittston, fighting for the health-care benefits of UMWA retirees and widows. It was a young intern at the Gazette, and somebody thought it was a good idea to let me cover the strike (one joke in the newsroom that summer was about how, if there were any trouble on the picket lines, I wasn’t on the company’s health-care plan). UMW leaders were re-enacting the march to Blair Mountain to draw attention to their fight with Pittston (subscription required).

One thing I learned that summer was how so many UMWA fights were not really about the working miners who were doing the fighting, but about either protecting the union’s retirees or trying to ensure a better life for their kids.

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TransGas has announced that it plans to hold a groundbreaking ceremony next week for its proposed coal-to-gas project in Mingo County, W.Va. But the Sierra Club is cautioning the company against actually starting construction of the facility.

In this letter to TransGas lawyer David Yaussy, the Sierra Club reminds the company that it has yet to receive its final air pollution permit from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. The letter says:

Pursuant to West Virginia and federal law, the company cannot construct a major source of air pollution without a Prevention of Significant Deterioration permit … Nor can the company move forward with construction of a minor source without a final minor source permit.

While a mere ‘groundbreaking’ does not meet the definition of  ‘construction’ under the Act … TransGas faces significant risk if it moves forward with constructing the source itself. Doing so without the proper permit could subject your client to both federal and citizen enforcement actions, even if the state permitting authority has condoned the project.

Interestingly, the Sierra Club tells me:

WVDEP is taking the position that TransGas can go ahead and construct while they are fixing their permit.

I’ve tried to ask WVDEP about that, but agency officials have not responded to my questions.

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Board requires changes in Mingo liquid coal permit

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Word just in this afternoon that the West Virginia Air Quality Board has rejected key portions of an air pollution permit for the TransGas Development coal-to-liquids plant proposed for Mingo County.

I’ve posted a copy of the ruling here.

Recall that the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Air Quality issued a permit for this facility over the objections of the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

Among other things, board members ruled that “the record does not support” the DEP’s determination that the plant’s flare combustion efficiency would be 99.5 percent — a key factor in the agency’s decision to permit this facility as “minor source” of air pollution, allowing TransGas to bypass more stringent permitting requirements.

The AQB sent the permit back to the WVDEP with instructions that the permit be modified to comply with the law.

Piles of coal are shown at NRG Energy’s W.A. Parish Electric Generating Station Wednesday, March 16, 2011, in Thompsons, Texas. The plant, which operates natural gas and coal-fired units, is one of the largest power plants in the United States. (AP Photo)

Am I the only one who was surprised to not hear members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation jump out to immediately slam the Obama administration’s new proposal to reduce toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants?

Maybe I missed it. But I didn’t see or hear a word yesterday out of our Senators and House members. And nothing this morning, either.

We did get a news release today from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection titled, WVDEP provides information about WV mercury emissions:

For your information in reporting about the situation in West Virginia, the WVDEP’s Division of Air Quality is providing a chart showing the amount of mercury reductions that have been achieved by coal-fired power plants in West Virginia in the last decade through the use of controls installed to comply with air rules aimed at reducing air pollutants other than mercury.

The attached bar chart shows that from 2000 to 2009, coal-fired power plants in West Virginia reduced mercury emissions by about 4,500 pounds, or 64 percent.

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Here’s today’s announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

In response to a court deadline, today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first-ever national standards for mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from power plants. The new power plant mercury and air toxics standards – which eliminate 20 years of uncertainty across industry – would require many power plants to install widely available, proven pollution control technologies to cut harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases, while preventing as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year. The new proposed standards would also provide particular health benefits for children, preventing 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year. The proposed standards would also avert more than 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions and 850,000 fewer days of work missed due to illness.

This rule will provide employment for thousands, by supporting 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term utility jobs.

“Today’s announcement is 20 years in the making, and is a significant milestone in the Clean Air Act’s already unprecedented record of ensuring our children are protected from the damaging effects of toxic air pollution,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “With the help of existing technologies, we will be able to take reasonable steps that will provide dramatic protections to our children and loved ones, preventing premature deaths, heart attacks, and asthma attacks.”

Toxic air pollutants like mercury from coal- and oil-fired power plants have been shown to cause neurological damage, including lower IQ, in children exposed in the womb and during early development. The standards also address emissions of other toxic metals linked with cancer such as arsenic, chromium and nickel. Mercury and many of the other toxic pollutants also damage the environment and pollute our nation’s lakes, streams, and fish. In addition, cutting these toxic pollutants also reduces fine particle pollution, which causes premature death, heart disease, workdays lost to illness and asthma.

“The American Lung Association applauds the release of this sensible public health measure. When it becomes final, the cleanup rule that the EPA is putting forward today will save lives, protect the health of millions of Americans and finally bring about an action that is 20 years overdue. This must happen,” said Charles D. Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association.

Power plants are the largest remaining source of several toxic air pollutants – responsible for half of mercury and more than half of acid gas emissions in the United States. In the power sector alone, coal-fired power plants are responsible for 99 percent of mercury emissions. Currently, more than half of all coal-fired power plants already deploy the widely available pollution control technologies that allow them to meet these important standards. Once final, these standards will ensure the remaining coal-fired plants, roughly 44 percent, take similar steps to decrease dangerous pollutants.

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Air pollution update: Emission rules due this week

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Amid the continued congressional attacks on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act,  the EPA is due this week  to issue its proposed new rules to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants.

EPA agreed to propose the rules on Wednesday and finalize them by mid-November, under a lawsuit agreement with environmental and public health organizations. Reuters had an interesting story yesterday detailing some of the history and providing a bit of a look forward on this issue:

According to EPA, American coal plants produce 386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants per year. The toxins they release — hazardous chemicals that can lead to disease, brain damage and premature death — affect every part of the human body. Arsenic, chromium and nickel cause cancer; lead damages the nervous system; acid gases irritate the nose and throat; dioxins affect the reproductive endocrine and immune systems; and volatile organic compounds weaken lungs and eyes.

Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1990 to control industrial emissions of hazardous air pollutants, but coal-fired power plants were exempt until 2000. More than ten years later, the standards will finally be released for public comment and finalized in November.

Also yesterday, Greenwire, via The New York Times, reported that high-level Obama administration officials have gotten involved as EPA prepares to unveil its proposal:

The Office of Management and Budget has held at least 10 meetings with stakeholders as it has reviewed the proposed rules, which have to be released by Wednesday under a legal deadline. Those types of meetings are nothing new, but as power companies, unions and advocacy groups have come to make their voices heard, they’ve sent the big guns — and they’ve gotten to sit down with top officials who don’t normally get involved in the day-to-day grind of the rulemaking process.

White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley attended one meeting last week with the CEOs of Constellation Energy, NextEra Energy Inc. and Exelon Corp., three utilities that are pushing EPA to press forward with the limits on mercury, acid gases and other types of air pollution. Also in the room were Cass Sunstein, who oversees the review of new rules at the White House, and Gary Guzy, the second in command at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

In January, the group Environment America issued a report that focused on what sort of action EPA might take regarding mercury emissions.  But it’s important to remember that the rule at issue here affects not just mercury, but literally dozens of other air toxics — including arsenic, lead, dioxin and chromium, just to name a few.

Stay tuned …