At a July 26 House Oversight subcommittee hearing, power industry representatives battled EPA and public health interests on the necessity for new pollution controls on coal-burning power plants. The hearing echoed one on mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia held by the subcommittee on July 14, with the EPA standing up to industry representatives and their right-wing congressional supporters in defense of protecting public health and the environment.
See CSW’s earlier post on the hearing on mountaintop removal mining here.
“Lights Out: How EPA Regulations Threaten Affordable Power and Job Creation,” hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending, July 26, hearing video and written testimony here.
At issue was a series of EPA regulations: the Cross- State Air Pollution Control Rule (CSAPR), which would force power plants to reduce emissions of ozone and fine particle pollution in other states; the Utility Maximum Achievable Technology Rule; the Clean Air Visibility Rule; the Coal Combustion Residuals Rule (CCR); and the Cooling Water Intake Structures Rule.
The hearing, dubbed “Lights Out: How EPA Threatens Affordable Power and Job Creation” was aptly named for the industry interests that dominated the discourse. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), subcommittee chair, opened the hearing with reference to EPA’s “regulatory trainwreck” which is supposedly holding back economic growth, and responsible for stagnant job creation. “Lets make one thing clear, he said. “No one wants dirty air, however we need to be smart about the regulations. Americans want to get back to work.”
Janet Henry, Deputy General Counsel for American Electric Power (AEP) echoed Jordan’s statements. “High costs and infeasible deadlines will lead to substantial coal plant retirements and significantly compromise electric grid reliability” she maintained. Further, she posited that the regulations would result in “very high electricity rate increases due to high capital costs” and, citing a study conducted by an economic consulting firm, over 1 million job losses between 2013 and 2020.
American Electric Power, an electricity giant that owns nearly 38,000 megawatts of generating capacity and has revenues of just under $15 billion, is no stranger to objecting to regulations under the Clean Air Act. In 2007, the company was forced to pay $15 million in penalties for CAA violations, spend another $60 million on projects to mitigate past pollution, and cut emissions by 813,000 tons of air pollution annually. EPA announced the settlement as “the single largest environmental enforcement settlement in
history by several measures.”
AEP lobbyists are also behind a bill they call the “Electric Power Regulatory Coordination Act of 2011.” According to Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, in “the first two years alone [this bill] would permit the release of mercury, acid gases and arsenic [and]…would further delay implementation of EPA’s mercury and air toxins rule, the nation’s first serious effort to protect the public from the most dangerous air pollution in the electric power sector. No surprise – in 2008, AEP emitted more mercury than any other American utility.”
Further, the company announced in June that it would shut down 21 coal power plants rather than invest in pollution reduction measures. In June, Climate Progress reported:
AEP would prefer to shutter these plants because it claims that the cost of reducing the arsenic, lead, mercury, acid gases and other toxic pollutants are prohibitive. What AEP did not say is that the cost of cleanup is too much because these units are very old – 50 years old on average. One of the units was built during World War II, and the newest one was completed during the Carter Administration. Most of the other units were built in the 1950’s.
Clearly, the company is no stranger to pressuring Congress with threats of lost jobs and economic disaster.
But EPA’s Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe told a different story. The CSAPR comes with significant health benefits that, according to the EPA, far outweigh the economic costs. “Our publicly available analyses, which involve detailed modeling of the impacts on the power sector of CSAPR, MATS and 316(b), shows that these rules are affordable,” he said. “Warnings of dire economic consequences of moving forward with these rules are exaggerated at best.”
Subcommittee chairman Jordan hammered on the potential for increases in electricity prices resulting from regulation to protect human health and the environment. “There could be ramifications for businesses at a time when we have 9.2% unemployment,” he said. “Small business owners and manufacturers … probably see it as important, but you may see it as negligible.”
But Mr. Perciasepe held his ground: “Cost of electricity will still be less than it was in 2009 even with the increase. The baseline that people now pay for electricity was less than it was several years ago.” Furthermore, EPA analysis shows that the new regulations will only result in “a modest level of retirements – older, dirtier, less efficient power plants.”
The positive impacts on public health, while a key component of Mr. Perciasepe’s defense of the regulations, was given relatively little consideration by right-wing committee members. “In a single year (2014), the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is projected to produce benefits valued at $120 billion to $280 billion,” he said. The regulations restricting PM pollution will prevent “Up to 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 heart attacks, 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, 19,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 19,000 hospital and emergency room visits, and over 1.8 million days when people miss work or school.”
Dr. Joel Schwartz, professor of Environmental Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, supported EPA’s conclusions in his well-reasoned testimony. “By 2006, every major scientific body involved in either research or evaluation of research relating to particulate pollution has concluded that it is a major health hazard, whose consequences include early deaths” he said.
“There are few government policies that would have such a large public health impact, and the cost per life saved is quite low compared to most other policies,” Dr. Schwartz concluded. This cost per life – estimated at around $100,000 – is relatively low when compared to health care costs in today’s market.
Ranking Member Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) supported these arguments. “Industry always claims the sky will fall if they have to minimize and heal the environmental harms their business practices cause. This is familiar,” he said. He tore into the industry’s claims to be watching out for jobs, small businesses, and local economies. Referring to the $120 billion that is the least that can be expected in health benefits if these rules are applied, he said:
This is one of the underlying problems that I have with the fact that utilities refuse to abide by rules that protect human health. Because people are subsidizing the profits of the utilities with the public health. So the $120 billion is a payment that people make with their health. That’s just not fair; it’s manifestly unjust, morally offensive. I’m concerned about jobs, but look how much time people have to spend taking care of a sick loved one whose sickness is exacerbated by air pollution. Please.
CSW applauds Mr. Kucinich for cutting through industry claims to be on the side of local economies.. The power industry has evidently convinced many members of Congress that only through minimal regulation will they be able to provide Americans with power and jobs. Right-wing interests claim to be on the side of the small business owner, yet it is clear that these local communities will be the ones to suffer the negative health effects, and the ones that will be the most damaged when the power companies do not behave responsibly.
As Mr. Kucinich pointed out, “We can’t get into a position where it’s either jobs or a clean environment…we have to insist that we have both.”
Also see this post by our friend Dave Roberts at Grist: