Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Legal & Legislative Assault On EPA's Utility MACT Rule

Feb 16: Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), filed a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) that will prevent the Obama-EPA from going through with its Utility Maximum Achievable Control Technology (Utility MACT, a.k.a. Mercury and Air Toxics Standards or MATS) rule [See WIMS 1/3/12]. Senator Inhofe said:
"The failure of the United States Senate to rein in the Obama-EPA is having a devastating impact on the pocketbooks of American families and threatens the jobs and livelihoods of millions of Americans. Over the past year, more than a dozen Senate Democrats have claimed that they want to stop EPA's destructive agenda, yet when the time comes, they hide behind alternative bills they know will never pass. This way, they can tell their constituents they are trying to help -- when the reality is their actions are enabling them to protect President Obama's left wing ideals. The House has passed numerous bipartisan bills, yet not a single one has passed the United States Senate. It's time for the Senate to do its job and stop this regulatory nightmare.

"Today the United States Senate can look forward to having one more opportunity to stand up to President Obama's war on affordable energy: I am introducing a legislative measure that will put a halt to the Obama-EPA's Utility MACT rule -- one of the most expensive environmental rules in American history, second only to his proposed cap-and-trade rules that failed to pass legislatively.   
"When one cuts through EPA's propaganda, the health benefits the Agency touts are virtually nonexistent. In reality, Utility MACT is designed to kill coal. As EPA admits, this extension of Obama's cap-and-trade agenda will cost American families up to $11 billion in electricity rate increases (over 11 percent increase, on average), and destroy up to 1.4 million jobs. Workers recently laid off in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia are feeling the devastating impacts of this rule. Sadly, these lost jobs are a part of President Obama's wider war on coal as well as fossil fuels, which he admitted was his goal on the campaign trail in 2008 when he said, 'if somebody wants to build a coal-fired plant they can. It's just that it will bankrupt them' and 'under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.'

"The time for political charades and talk is over. A majority of the members of the US Senate understand that EPA is destroying jobs and harming our economy.  The President himself admitted as much when he stopped EPA from issuing new ozone standards. With this CRA, the Senate can either stand with American families, small businesses, and manufacturers, or continue to enable the Obama-EPA's job-killing regulatory agenda."
    According to background information provided by Senator Inhofe, the Congressional Review Act (CRA) provides for an expedited Senate floor procedure to overturn executive agency rules by a simple majority vote. If passed by both chambers and signed into law, the joint resolution would effectively send the rule back to EPA to be rewritten in conformance with Congressional direction. Sen. Inhofe said, "Contrary to claims, disapproved rules don't necessarily require statutory reauthorization before further agency action can occur. Rather, an Agency's ability to issue a new rule depends on the nature of its regulatory authority and the specific objections raised by Congress to the disapproved rule. EPA has broad authority and discretion to regulate hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. As such, in the event the Utility MACT rule and its 'Franken MACT' approach were disapproved, it would not be barred from seeking achievable, cost effective emissions reductions from power plants."
    Additionally, on February 16, the National Mining Association (NMA) President and CEO Hal Quinn announced the association's legal petition for review of EPA final Utility MACT rule. He said, "NMA petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today for review of EPA's final Utility MACT rule, in National Mining Association v. United States Environmental Protection Agency. EPA has dangerously underestimated the impact of the Utility MACT and related rules on the reliability of the nation's electricity grid. Within a matter of weeks of the final rule's unveiling, the announced retirements of electricity plants already exceeds EPA's dubious estimate.

    "These announcements demonstrate the cruel reality of EPA's regulatory agenda -- less reliability, higher costs to consumers and businesses and lost employment. EPA has compounded the flaws in its high-cost, tight-compliance regulatory strategy by hiding their real-world consequences to households and businesses. NMA will continue to advocate policies that support, rather than discriminate against, America's most abundant and secure fuel—U.S. coal—and the men and women, businesses and communities that rely on coal to provide reliable, affordable electricity."

    Environmental groups responded in a joint release saying, "Today representatives of the nation's dirtiest polluters and their friends at special interest groups like the National Mining Association, filed the first lawsuits to block long overdue action to clean up toxic mercury pollution, acid gases and other hazardous air toxics. Toxic mercury is a potent brain poison that threatens prenatal babies and young children, and is linked to severe learning disabilities, deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy and other life-threatening illnesses."

    These final rules were published in the Federal Register on February 16 [77 FR 9304-9513]. EPA estimates that the new safeguards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year. EPA also said the standards will also help America's children grow up healthier -- preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 6,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year. EPA said it estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, the American public will see up to $9 in health benefits. The total health and economic benefits of this standard are estimated to be as much as $90 billion annually. 

    In response, a coalition of environmental and clean air advocacy groups issued a number of statements. The groups included: Sierra Club; Earthjustice; Environmental Defense Fund (EDF); Clean Air Task Force; President, Natural Resources Defense Council; Southern Environmental Law Center; Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Environment America, Izaak Walton League of America and the Ohio Environmental Council.

    For example: EDF's President Fred Krupp said, "The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are one of the most important public health measures we've seen in a generation. They'll save thousands of lives every year and protect the developing brains and nervous systems of countless American children. Unfortunately, a few utility companies will probably spend lots of money on lobbyists and lawsuits to stop these standards. I would hope that, instead, they'd spend that money to reduce the mercury emissions from their plants and protect the health of their customers." Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club said, "Today's attack by corporate polluter front groups on the health of American families and the safety of prenatal babies and young children is outrageous and contemptible, but it's no surprise. The country's dirtiest polluters want to keep their license to pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink without limits or consequences. It's time to put an end to that pollution spree, and protect American children from toxic mercury pollution."

    Access a release from Sen. Inhofe and link to the CRA resolution (click here). Access a release from NMA (click here). Access the joint release from environmental groups (click here). Access the FR announcement (click here). Access legislative details for S.J.Res.37 (click here). [#Air, #Toxics]

32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals