Pa. DEP urges EPA to revise electric grid rules

By Michael P. Tremoglie | Dec 7, 2011

The Pa. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to further revise its interstate “Transport Rule," involving cross state air pollution.

DEP says as it is currently written, the rule stresses that electricity markets cause waste coal-fired electrical generation to be less cost-effective. The rule also violates states’ rights to govern within their borders, according to the DEP.

“It is not surprising that EPA’s continued rush to judgment on all fronts, which is driven by litigation deadlines instead of science, is causing an assortment of errors like what we see not just in this instance, but in others as well,” DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said. “EPA fails to understand or fully analyze the potential effect of its onslaught of new rules on the reliability of the electric grid.”

The Interstate Transport Rule replaces the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) requirements for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions from electric generating units and goes into effect Jan. 1, 2012. Waste coal-fired power plants will especially be affected.

These plants utilize decades-old piles of discarded coal that was once deemed to have too low of a potential heat content to be used by power plants. The units remove from the environment piles of waste coal, which have the potential to produce acid mine drainage because of acid-bearing material in the piles, in order to generate electricity.

The rule requires such plants to have costly add-on controls by 2014 that would do little to improve air quality. According to DEP, these plants have minimal effect on downwind areas' abilities to attain federal ambient air quality standards.

DEP alleges that EPA “has very likely overstepped its legal boundaries under the cooperative federalism mandates of the Clean Air Act.” DEP supports EPA’s change of the effective date of certain penalty provision back to 2014, which was the date in the proposed version of the rule. Without explanation, EPA had changed that date to 2012 in the final rule.

“It is ironic and troublesome that EPA, in this rule, continues to ignore the substantial environmental and health benefits that waste coal-fired or ‘coal refuse-fired’ electric generating units provide to the citizens of Pennsylvania,” Secretary Krancer said. “We recommended that EPA fully exclude those units from the rule.”

DEP determined it would comment on the rule since it was unable to do so when the rule was in its proposed form back in October 2010. It noted in its comments that this rule, combined with other EPA regulations, could cause strains on the electric grid because of electric generating plant retirements.

It requested that EPA consult with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; regional transmission organizations, such as the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland Interconnection; and independent systems operators to address the concern. It also made clear the need for non-electrical generating emissions sources, such as stationary combustion engines and cement kilns, to be able to use nitrogen oxide emission allowances to meet compliance obligations in the most cost-effective fashion.

“Our comments support EPA’s proposal to go back to its original approach of not imposing ‘assurance penalty provisions’ until 2014,” Krancer said. “Postponing the provisions will promote market liquidity and facilitate the creation of robust Transport Rule allowance markets.”

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