Guest Column: The EPA and the NGS - Tucson Local Media: Opinion

Guest Column: The EPA and the NGS

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Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2012 4:00 am

Recently, the Senate considered legislation to stop the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from formally implementing its so-called “Utility MACT” rule – one of the most costly and unnecessary regulations it has ever proposed. While that legislation failed to pass (by a vote of 46 to 53), I hope the EPA’s regulation will be reconsidered; if allowed to take effect, it could have a tremendously negative impact on our state and Indian tribes. Here’s why.

In 2000, the Clinton EPA – under great pressure from special interests – initiated consideration of the “Utility MACT” rule to regulate certain electric utility emissions based on public health concerns about mercury. Yet, the data simply do not support it. First, mercury does not pose health risks through inhalation, but rather only after accumulating in the aquatic food chain (humans are typically exposed through consumption of fish). Accordingly, the EPA has acknowledged uncertainties about the extent of public health risks that can be directly attributable to mercury emissions from power plants. Additionally, we have learned that studies the EPA relied on greatly inflated health risks.

The EPA’s original projections for major increases in mercury emissions from power plants have proven totally inaccurate. It estimated that emissions would increase from 46 tons in 1990 to 60 tons in 2010. But, in fact, they actually declined to just 29 tons in 2011 – more than 50 percent below the projections (and all without more regulation).

Moreover, the EPA’s own cost-benefit analysis demonstrates that the health benefits of this regulation would be far outweighed by its costs.  Even in the best case scenario, the cost of implementing Utility MACT would exceed its estimated benefits by a factor of 1,600 to 1.

The cumulative consequences of this and other EPA regulations are substantial; they will increase energy prices, eliminate jobs, and threaten electric reliability. Arizona, for instance, relies on coal-fired power for much of its electricity. Coal mining and plant operations are an important employer and economic engine for Arizonans and, specifically, for the Navajo and Hopi Indian tribes.

Just look at the Navajo Generating Station.

The station provides more than 90 percent of the pumping power for the Central Arizona Project, and both the plant and the coal mined to operate it play a vital role in the economies of the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe. An Arizona State University study concluded that from 2017-2044, the Navajo Generating Station and its associated mine will account for more than 3,000 jobs and over $18 billion in gross state product, as well as almost $680 million in adjusted state tax revenues.

Yet, the station’s future viability is now directly threatened by Utility MACT and other pending EPA regulations. In fact, the EPA is considering a rule that would require additional emissions-control technologies to be installed at the station for purely aesthetic reasons, rather than actual health concerns. This regulation could require the installation of emissions controls at a cost of more than $1.1 billion. That’s a massive cost for just one generating station – and we don’t even know yet what the estimated cost of compliance with Utility MACT might be.

 The executive director of the Navajo Nation EPA said that this regulatory approach “fails to acknowledge or address the specific concerns and impacts to the Navajo Nation, as well as regional impacts,” and that it risks “critical jobs of Navajo people, and the very viability of the Navajo government.”

 Utility MACT is simply a bad regulation refuted by the very science used to justify its development. Moreover, its economic effects would be negative and far-reaching, while its benefits would be minimal and hardly worth such costs.

This is the wrong time to be burdening our economy with one of the EPA’s most expensive and far-reaching regulations. Thus, I am hopeful that, somehow, this misguided rule can be stopped before it is allowed to take effect.

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