Clean Power Plan opponents lead daylong push as comment period closes 

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, December 2, 2014

As the clock winds down to tonight’s public comment witching hour, supporters and opponents of U.S. EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas rule for power plants jockeyed for attention.

There were already 1.6 million public comments submitted on the proposal last week, but many combatants in the war over EPA climate policy held their fire until after Thanksgiving, releasing statements hours before the public comment period closes at midnight tonight.

This morning saw a smattering of telebriefings by groups including the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). They will continue into the afternoon with calls hosted by business, religious and environmental supporters of the draft, including the Natural Resources Defense Council — an organization that conservatives have claimed has already had disproportionate influence over the draft.

Comments submitted tend to echo arguments long made by partisans for and against the rule. Opponents who weighed in this morning from groups like NRECA, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Mining Association again decried the draft rule’s potential to drive up power costs, disrupt grid reliability and outstrip EPA’s Clean Air Act authority.

NRECA President Jo Ann Emerson, a former Republican congresswoman from coal-heavy Missouri, blasted the rule on this morning’s call as “illegal, imprudent and impossible to implement.”

NRECA’s members serve rural communities that are disproportionately poor and vulnerable to price spikes, she said. And rural power providers have historically invested in coal-fired generation as a means of providing power to larger geographic regions more cheaply. So the proposed rule would place particular stress on them that would trickle through to their customers, Emerson said.

“Pay more for electricity and use less of it — that’s the bottom line,” she said in remarks introducing the group’s comments.

That view was reinforced by NMA’s comments, posted to the docket last week, in which the coal industry blasted the rule as an “extravagant” rewrite of the Clean Air Act to achieve the desired effect of phasing out use of its product.

The landmark environmental law “never intended that the NSPS program would empower EPA to retard economic growth by forcing states to close existing facilities,” the comments stated.

The industry group charged that the statute clearly limited EPA to what covered sources could achieve “inside the fenceline” at a facility. NMA also questioned whether EPA had the authority under the Clean Air Act provision EPA used to set hard-and-fast state carbon intensity targets for states under the rule, rather than providing guidance and allowing states to formulate their own reduction goals.

It warned EPA to abandon its current draft and write a more limited one, or risk seeing its efforts end in court.

Speaking for the power sector more broadly, EEI officials took a more conciliatory tone on their call.

“We’re not concerned so much about the political landscape and what different politicians will think about this rule, pro and con,” said the EEI vice president for the environment, Quin Shea. “Nor are we that concerned about what will happen next June when EPA finalizes this rule and the inevitable litigation ensues with different parties.”

EEI’s “real estate,” he said, had to do with the structure of the Clean Power Plan and the way it would affect the power system — messages the group’s top staff will continue to communicate to EPA over the coming months.

These “concerns” — laid out in its comments to EPA and on the call — are extensive and take aim at some of the core provisions of the draft. EEI placed special emphasis on EPA’s proposed “interim” target for the rule — an averaged target that would cover 2020 through 2029 — which the industry group argued would be unworkable. EPA has cast the early goals as a step toward the rule’s eventual 2030 requirements, but a wide swath of industry and state stakeholders have called it a regulatory “cliff” and noted that it would phase in requirements beginning only 18 months after some states may submit their implementation plans to EPA for approval.

This tight timeline would not allow infrastructure to be built to accommodate the major dispatch changes the draft rule envisions, Shea said.

“Between now and 2020, a lot has to be done, and we don’t think EPA has afforded sufficient time to do that,” he said.

EPA also failed to consider how its “building blocks” — the assumptions it uses to set state reduction responsibilities — would affect each other, EEI said. And it fails to provide adequate incentives for retention and new investment in nuclear and hydropower, despite the role both play in providing zero-carbon power.

Some groups also took their ideas directly to the public, asking members and supporters to sign form letters that served the dual purpose of padding the numbers of comments EPA would receive on the draft rule and giving the public buy-in.

The anti-regulatory NRECA gathered 1.1 million signatures for its comments.

And the League of Conservation Voters raised the specter of a newly unified congressional Republican majority to spur supporters to sign on to its version.

“There’s no other way to put it — we have our work cut out for us in 2015,” warns LCV President Gene Karpinski in an email to supporters. LCV says it gathered more than 350,000 signatures for comments supporting both EPA’s existing and new power plant proposals.