Utility industry urges EPA to keep mercury emissions rule in place and speed reviews

Energize Weekly, July 18, 2018

The electricity power industry—from cooperatives to municipality utilities to investor-owned utilities—is urging the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to keep in place the mercury pollution rules it had for years opposed.

The industry had launched legal challenges of the 2012 rule to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, but in 2015, the Supreme Court, in the main, upheld the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS).

The Trump administration had not taken a clear position on the standard, but in a letter to EPA air chief Bill Wehrum, trade groups representing all facets of the industry, as well as unions, urge the rule be left in place and the required risk and technology assessments be done “as quickly as possible.”

The letter noted that owners and operators of coal-fired and oil-fired power plants have spent more than $18 billion to comply with the MATS under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

“It is important to note that all covered plants have implemented the regulation and that pollution controls—where needed—are installed and operating,” the letter said.

Power plants accounting for 87.4 gigawatts, or 29 percent of 2014 coal capacity, added pollution-control equipment to comply, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

“These investments, parallel state requirements, other CAA programs, and non-environmental drivers have reduced mercury emissions by nearly 90 percent over the past decade,” the letter said.

Given the scale of investment, the industry groups said that regulatory certainty is “critical.” They noted that in many cases, utilities are now going to state public utility commissions seeking to recoup the investment through rates.

“To provide certainty,” the group asked for the Residual Risk and Technology Review (RTR) required by statute be completed. “We believe a complete and robust RTR will recognize the capital investments already made for compliance and will allow the industry to continue full implementation of the MATS rule, which was completed in April 2016,” the letter said.

The group did urge the EPA to consider technical revisions to MATS, such as whether performance tests could be run less frequently if units are being run less frequently, as long as the standards are being achieved.

Signing the letter were the Edison Electric Institute, American Public Power Association, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Workers, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers.

Also signing the letter was the Class of ’85 Regulatory Response Group, which represents about 30 power producers, and the Clean Energy Group, a national advocacy group.

“Driven by several factors—including customer demands, technology developments, and federal and state regulatory obligations—the electric power sector is undergoing a transition of its electric generating fleet that will continue over the next decade and beyond,” the letter said.

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