Democrats abandon climate change bill; EPA forges ahead with carbon-cap crackdown

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, July 23 – After Senate Democrats met Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and White House Climate Policy Director Carol Browner admitted they can't muster the 60 Senate votes needed to pass a carbon-cap climate bill.

But Friday brought a stark reminder that climate change skeptics face a tough choice. At least for now, they've successfully blocked Senate action on a climate bill. Yet they likely couldn't find the 60 votes needed to block the federal EPA from imposing Supreme Court mandated regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

So before the full force of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation begins on January first, the skeptics may have to decide between either accepting some form of carbon-cap legislation – or watching from the sidelines as EPA regulates carbon. What adds irony to the impasse is that the Republicans who stand united in their opposition to the administration's cap-&-trade proposal normally support market-based solutions. In this case, however, they are in the uncomfortable position of rejecting market-based cap-&-trade provisions. If Republicans maintain their opposition, the result will be that “unelected bureaucrats” at EPA rather than market forces will decide how to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

What brought the climate change issue into sharp focus Friday was a joint agreement announced by the U.S. EPA, the Justice Department, and the state of Indiana whereby Hoosier Energy Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc. has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $950,000 and install and upgrade pollution control technology at its two coal-fired power plants in Indiana to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act. The settlement, filed in federal court Friday, is designed to reduce harmful air pollution by more than 24,500 tons per year. On top of the stiff penalty, the agreement requires Hoosier to spend $5 million on environmental projects.

“This settlement continues our important enforcement initiative to reduce harmful air pollution from coal-fired power plants and provide the public with cleaner, healthier air to breathe,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Pollution from these sources can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts, and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog, and haze. Coal-fired power plants are large sources of air emissions, and EPA is committed to making sure that they comply with the law.”

“The large reductions in harmful air pollutants including sulfuric acid mist emissions secured by this settlement will have a significant beneficial impact on air quality in Indiana and downwind states,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Justice Department is committed to vigorously enforcing our nation’s environmental laws, and we are pleased that Hoosier has agreed to install state-of-the art controls that will significantly reduce harmful emissions.”

The Indiana settlement combined with scores of other emissions-curbing actions, with many initiated by “downwind” states, could quickly turn into hundreds – with billions of dollars in costs. This prospect is one reason that major electric generation companies have supported climate change legislation as preferable to EPA regulation. It's also a reason why despite Senator Reid's decision to abandon the climate bill he'd planned to introduce next week, climate change legislation may be back on the Senate agenda later this year.

As a graphic reminder of what lies ahead if EPA makes the decisions on pollution reduction rather than Congress, EPA explained Friday that:

  • “EPA issued a notice of violation to Hoosier, an Indiana electric generation and transmission cooperative, alleging that in 2008 it made modifications at its Merom coal-fired power plant without first complying with New Source Review requirements, including obtaining pre-construction permits and limiting emissions based upon best available control technology.”

  • “The settlement requires Hoosier to reduce air pollution from the cooperative’s Merom and Ratts Stations, located in southwest Indiana. Emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) will be reduced by approximately 20,000 tons and nitrogen oxides (NOx) by more than 1,800 tons. The settlement will also reduce harmful sulfuric acid mist and particulate matter (PM) emissions.”

  • “To achieve these reductions, Hoosier will upgrade existing, and install new, pollution controls at the Merom plant, install new pollution controls at the Ratts plant, and comply with annual tonnage limitations across its system. “

  • “Hoosier estimates that it will spend between $250 and $300 million upgrading and installing pollution controls at its coal-fired units through the end of 2015.”

  • “Hoosier will spend $5 million on environmental mitigation projects in its service territory to address the impacts of past emissions. Hoosier must direct $200,000 for projects to mitigate the harm caused by Hoosier’s excess emissions at lands owned by the U.S. Forest Service. The remaining $4.8 million will be spent on [other] projects.”

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