By Jon Cassidy | Ohio Watchdog
The U.S. Senate killed an effort to reform costly federal coal plant regulation Wednesday, a move that industry observers said ends exemptions that make it profitable to run aging coal plants.
The North American Electric Reliability Council said in November that hundreds of units will close at once, some permanently, in order to meet the EPA’s three-year timeline.
Five members of each party switched sides in the 53-46 vote to support existing Environmental Protection Agency regulation governing mercury emissions. Ohio senators Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican, voted with their parties, although five Democrats from coal-rich states voted to overturn the EPA regulation.
Unlike those five Democrats, Brown has consistently sided with environmentalists against the coal industry.
The EPA itself has said that the measure would cost roughly $10 billion annually to implement. Industry studies said the Senate’s action would eliminate 215,000 jobs by 2015.
The regulation, approved last December, is aimed at reducing the amount of mercury that power plants put into the air. Those measures would also reduce pollution from particulate matter, long-term exposure linked to respiratory problems in the young, and higher rates of stroke and heart attacks in the elderly, according to the American Lung Association, citing “more than 2,000 studies.”
But scientists have criticized that finding, saying the EPA’s target mercury levels are unjustifiably low, and that the agency’s regulations will have no effect on overall mercury contamination because the American coal industry produces just a fraction of the mercury found in the environment.
“The EPA doesn’t seem to understand the impact of its regulation on grid reliability and economic growth,” Portman said in a prepared statement. “Sadly, we can now say the same thing about the U.S. Senate. This regulation will cause Ohio power plants to shut down and could cause thousands of Ohioans to lose their jobs, and millions more see a big increase in their electricity rates. To get the economy moving again, Washington needs to rein in government overreach and regulations that are creating uncertainty and stifling innovation.”
Brown’s office hasn’t mentioned the vote in 17 news releases issued over the past two days.
Ohio has 26 major coal-based electricity generating plants that produce roughly 90 percent of the state’s electricity, according to Oxford Resource Partners.
“The Utility MACT rule is expected to cost $10 billion per year and destroy as many as 215,000 jobs by 2015. EPA rules are already responsible for the premature closure of power plants in 21 states,” said Steve Miller, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal and Electricity, in a news release.
Bruce Josten, an executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, earlier this year called it “the most expensive regulation ever for power plants.” He claimed the regulation “has already resulted in the announced shutdown of nine coal-fired power plants in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, placing more than 600 employees at risk…. Moreover, 99.99 percent of the benefits EPA derives from the rule actually occur from reductions not in mercury but particulate matter, a pollutant already well regulated by other EPA rules.“
Willie Soon of Harvard and conservative activist Paul Driessen wrote in the Wall Street Journal last year that the regulations would do almost nothing to reduce levels of mercury, which occurs naturally in the environment.
“The latest government, university and independent studies reveal that those power plants emit an estimated 41 to 48 tons of mercury per year. However, U.S. forest fires emit at least 44 tons per year; cremation of human remains discharges 26 tpy; Chinese power plants eject 400 tpy; and volcanoes, subsea vents, geysers and other sources spew out 9,000 to 10,000 additional tons per year!
“All these emissions enter the global atmospheric system and become part of the U.S. air mass.
“Thus, U.S. power plants account for less than 0.5 percent of all the mercury in the air Americans breathe. Even eliminating every milligram of this mercury will do nothing about the other 99.5 percent in America’s atmosphere.”