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Rolling Blackouts from EPA’s Utility MACT? FERC Commissioner Says a “Possibility”

“The actual justification for the Utility MACT, one of the most expensive and consequential regulations of all time, is to protect a supposed population of pregnant subsistence fisherwomen, who consume hundreds of pounds of self-caught fish from exclusively the most polluted inland bodies of fresh water.

I’ve documented this outrageous rationale here. [But] EPA has never actually identified a real-life member of this putative population of pregnant super-anglers with voracious appetites; rather, they are modeled to exist…. This regulation is nothing more than quid pro quo, business as usual, special-interest politics.”

On Sunday morning’s Platts Energy Week with Bill Loveless, FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller gave a bombshell interview regarding the clear and present danger to electric reliability posed by the EPA.

An excerpted transcript is posted below:

FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller: “We’re closing an enormous amount of coal generation, through a variety of rules, and a good number of those plants are set to retire next April. But most people would say about 90% of that capacity was running and used and necessary during the polar vortex events. So the question is: Are we going to have mild weather for the next 2-3 years? If so, we can probably get through it. But if we have more extreme weather events, like we had this winter, and that power is no longer available, we could be in a real situation that’s not good for consumers.

Platts Energy Week: Are regional blackouts a possibility?

FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller: They are a possibility.

When Moeller refers to a wave of coal-fired power plants that are “set to retire next April,” he is talking about the consequences of EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, also known as the Utility MACT, which will shutter up to a quarter of the nation’s coal power capacity starting in the spring of 2015, according to a recent EIA analysis.

In the interview, Moeller is warning that many of the coal plants in the northeast that are slated for retirement were called into service during the unusually cold winter of 2013-2014. Had they not been available, electricity and heating costs would have “skyrocketed,” to borrow from President Obama’s energy phrasebook. For more, see this recent New York Times article, whose headline says it all: “Coal to the Rescue, But Maybe Not Next Winter.”

While it’s true that EPA performed a reliability analysis of its Utility MACT, the agency’s work was shredded by an informal  analysis conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Now, EPA’s reliability analysis is being shredded by reality. Of course, the latter shredding is a great deal more tangible to utility customers in many markets who could be in line for rate shock, or even rolling blackouts, thanks to EPA’s Utility MACT.

In addition to this looming threat to keeping the lights on, EPA’s Utility MACT will cost $10 billion annually. Both the agency and industry agree on this figure, which renders the regulation one of the most expensive ever.

And for what? Surely, there must have been some awesome threat to public health, in order to justify such staggering costs and dire ramifications, right? Wrong.

The actual justification for the Utility MACT, one of the most expensive and consequential regulations of all time, is to protect a supposed population of pregnant subsistence fisherwomen, who consume hundreds of pounds of self-caught fish from exclusively the most polluted inland bodies of fresh water. I’ve documented this outrageous rationale here.

Suffice it to say for this post: EPA has never actually identified a real-life member of this putative population of pregnant super-anglers with voracious appetites; rather, they are modeled to exist. I humbly submit that they don’t exist. Instead, I think that EPA’s actual justification for the Utility MACT is the waging of a “war on coal” on behalf the environmental organizations who helped President Obama get elected. That is, this regulation is nothing more than quid pro quo, business as usual, special interest politics.

6 comments

1 Wayne Lusvardi { 04.30.14 at 1:23 am }

Shall we call this the EPA’s straw-woman argument?

So in evidentiary law and tort law since Daubert vs Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals (1993), I guess we no longer have to have facts or evidence or rely on the scientific method to determine damages or harm, we just have to have a fictional group of straw women.

Thank you for this article William Yeatman.

2 William Yeatman { 04.30.14 at 9:18 am }

Wayne, Thank you for the nice words.

Regarding your comment: Alas, our current plight is such that EPA’s science must only pass a legal test for “reasonableness.” Even if it’s facially & plainly absurd, the courts will allow it, so long as there’s some plausible rationale. In a perfect world, these outrages would galvanize a voter reaction, but there are two factors militating against this: (1) 2nd term presidents and (2) the greens spend scores of millions on TV & radio ads accusing anyone who disagrees with them of killing babies with asthma. I’ve not lost hope, though. I feel that outrage is reaching a tipping point, and we’re going to start get political backlash to executive overreach of this sort. Best, w

3 R. L. Hails Sr. P. E.(Ret.) { 05.01.14 at 8:50 am }

I disagree with Mr. W. Yeatman but pray that he is correct.

I no longer believe reason controls our electric energy policies. Americans are already unemployed due to our disastrous pogrom on coal generation, a cheap, plentiful and cost effective fuel source. I now judge that Americans will die in large numbers, before this debacle is reversed.

The SC ruled yesterday that if Congress grants full authority to destroy our economy, to a government agency, EPA, that is the law of the land.

The problem is time; the US is out of time. The people who know how to make juice from coal are old, retired, or dead. The plants are ancient, far beyond their useful life. And there is an eternal axiom among utilities that when the grid needs power, the plants will supply it. That axiom died yesterday.

When a coming blizzard rips off wind generator propellers and coats solar panels, New England is going to experience frozen, dark hell.

4 Ed Reid { 05.02.14 at 10:42 am }

R. L. Hails Sr. P. E.(Ret.) @ 05.01.14

“When a coming blizzard rips off wind generator propellers and coats solar panels, New England is going to experience frozen, dark hell.”

Yes, but it will be a frozen, dark hell of their own making. They demanded it and litigated to assure they would get it.

5 James Rust { 05.04.14 at 8:11 pm }

EPA is basing Utility MACT against a possible 50 tons of mercury in coal that is negligible to the 8200 tons of mercury placed in the atmosphere mostly due to natural events from nature from oceans, forest fires, and volcanoes. Mercury is in petroleum to the same extent as coal–0.058 grams per ton. Thus mercury from cars equals potential from coal. Of course cars don’t have scrubbers.

While EPA kills coal due to a non-existent problem, EPA is mandating putting mercury in homes through CFLs. In a year or two, we will have 18 tons of mercury in homes that will make mercury contamination from power plants look silly.

Of course most don’t remember 60 years ago when mouths were full of mercury fillings, mercurochrome was put on cuts, people played with mercury, thermometers and thermostats used mercury, etc. Was my generation born idiots, or was our exposure to large amounts of mercury give us good sense and we have lived to see the country run by idiots who were not exposed to mercury.

James H. Rust, Professor of nuclear engineering

6 James Rust { 05.04.14 at 8:38 pm }

Mercury from power plants is negligible compared to mercury exposure 60 years ago when everyone played with mercury and had a mouth full. In addition, mercury from power plants is negligible compared to natural mercury. Also EPA is requiring mercury in your homes due to CFLs that pose real hazards.

James H. Rust, Professor

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