Monday, December 22, 2014

Views on the EPA Carbon Rule:

Support from Outside the Nuclear Industry

The comment period for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed rule to reduce carbon emissions closed December 1, and since then news reports on the comments filed by various groups have continued to trickle in.  Although the next step now is for the EPA to review the comments and respond to them, two reports on filings caught my attention--those from the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and those from the Edison Electric Institute (EEI).

The reason I feel that these comments are very important is that both groups represent a broad range of interests, and are not in any way "beholden" to the nuclear industry.  NARUC is a non-profit organization that represents all 50 State public service commissions, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and cover not only the area of energy supply, but also telecommunications, water, and transportation.  EEI represents all U.S. investor-owned electric utilities.  This includes, of course, utilities with nuclear power plants, but it also includes utilities without nuclear assets.  Therefore, their comments should reflect a perspective that balances all the potentially competing interests, and perhaps more important, should be judged by the EPA and the public to be unbiased with respect to any one technology.

Therefore, I was very interested to read that NARUC called for better recognition of nuclear power in EPA's carbon plan.  They stated in a resolution that they "jointly recognize the need to maintain the existing, baseload nuclear generation fleet" and urge the EPA to assure that carbon reduction regulations encourage states to "preserve, life-extend and expand" reliable and affordable nuclear generation.  They specifically take aim at a provision in the draft rule that would require incorporating 5.8 percent of existing nuclear generating capacity when calculating a state's target emissions, and they advocate removal of output from nuclear energy facilities still under construction from state rate-setting goals.  These are two provisions that have been the target of criticism from the nuclear industry. 

EEI took a somewhat broader view.  They particularly criticized the EPA plan for potentially putting reliable power sources at risk, saying that EPA’s framework would require new facilities, including transmission networks, gas pipelines and generation facilities.  These could take as long as 10 years to build [I would guess even longer].  Therefore, it will be difficult for states to reach their preliminary goals by 2020.  EPA recommends giving states the ability to phase-in changes as they like between implementation of the rule and the the 2030 final deadline, rather than mandating that cuts the begin immediately in 2020.

The rulemaking is now back in the hands of the EPA, which has something on the order of 1.6 million comments to evaluate.  (Mine was one of them.)  Just handling the comments will be a gargantuan task, as comments like those from NARUC, EEI, NEI, and people like me are countered by comments from so-called environmental individuals and groups, saying that the EPA's rules should have been tougher and should have required changes faster.  

The final EPA rule is due in June.  In the meantime, though, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a challenge to EPA's rules on mercury emissions.  The issue is whether the EPA is overstepping its authority under the Clean Air Act by issuing such regulations.  The Supreme Court's decision on the mercury case may give some clue to how the carbon regulation and other EPA actions may be treated.  In addition, the new Republican majority in both Houses of Congress could  introduce legislative measures designed to reign in some of the EPA's actions.

In the meantime, the process continues.  It should be noted that NARUC and EEI didn't oppose the rule overall, but rather, objected to provisions that other sources have said could actually end up undercutting the goals of the EPA rule.

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