January 30, 2015
By Angela Neville, Texas Lawyer
Once again, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is sparking controversy with proposed regulations that have critics saying that the agency has deliberately overreached its legal authority under the Clean Air Act.
The EPA introduced the proposed Clean Power Plan Rule in June 2014. The federal agency plan focuses on cutting greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants from 2005 levels by 30 percent by 2030.
On Feb. 4, the Law & Economics Center (LEC) at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Va., will assemble a group of legal heavyweights to explore the potential impacts of this hotly proposed rule. The panel discussion is titled “EPA’s Proposed Regulations Under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act: Clean Power or Power Play?” The event will give panelists an opportunity to discuss critics’ charges that the EPA has intentionally expanded its powers far beyond anything Congress intended or whether it is acting appropriately within the boundaries of the Clean Air Act to substantially reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants in order to protect human health.
The panel discussion will include the following group of confirmed panelists: Peter S. Glaser, Troutman Sanders; Robert L. Glicksman, The George Washington University School of Law; Jason S. Johnston, University of Virginia School of Law; Roger R. Martella Jr., Sidley Austin; and Richard O. Faulk (moderator), LEC Initiative for Energy & the Environment and Hollingsworth LLP. After the event, a webcast of the panel discussion will be made available.
The EPA proposed the Clean Power Plan as part of President Barack Obama’s climate change initiative. As proposed, the rule has two main elements: (1) specific goals setting amounts by which each state must reduce its carbon dioxide emissions; and (2) standards that states should follow when developing, submitting and implementing plans to achieve these goals.
A number of critics are pointing out the shortcomings of the proposed plan. For example, according to a study by the economic consulting firm National Economic Research Associates, the Clean Power Plan would be the most expensive regulation ever imposed on the electric power sector, costing between $41 billion and $73 billion per year to implement.
Speaking about the challenges of implementing the proposed Clean Power Plan, Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning, whose electric power company serves several Southeastern states, told Bloomberg News in November, “I don’t think we have the ability to maintain a reliable system and comply with the new EPA rule.”
Along the same lines, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Philip Moeller recently warned that the proposed Clean Power Plan could lead to “widespread rotating blackouts” in parts of the country.
With regard to the Clean Power Plan’s impact on the Lone Star State, the proposal would require, in stages, a 38 percent overall reduction in Texas’ emissions from electric power production by 2030. In an analysis released in November, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said the timing and scale of the proposed reductions raise serious concerns for the electric power generation sector in Texas.
In its recent report, ERCOT stated that about half of Texas’ coal-burning power plants might be forced into retirement under the plan. The semi-independent state agency, which manages most of the state’s electric power network, also noted the challenges of integrating new wind and solar power into the state’s grid.
Fast-tracking the changes “will require major improvements to ERCOT’s transmission system, posing significant costs not considered in EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis,” the report said. The grid management agency stopped short of opposing the EPA’s proposed plan. It instead called for more attention to electricity reliability issues.
Warren Lasher, ERCOT’s director of system planning, said including a “reliability safety valve” in the rule would allow flexibility in balancing emissions cuts and needed generation.