The EPA Is Dreaming Of A Blackout Christmas

Flashlights make great stocking stuffers.
By John Hayward

In another triumph for government transparency, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson signed the final MACT Rule last Friday, but she’s been keeping it secret until a formal announcement planned for today. MACT stands for Maximum Achievable Control Technology. It covers emission rules for various industries, controlling the technologies the EPA finds achievable in the same sense that a choke chain controls a dog.

The new MACT rules are going to come down hard on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, despite serious questions raised by critics about the EPA’s methodology for calculating costs and benefits from the rule. Many of the benefits it claims to provide already emanate from the Clean Air Act, while its project costs are deliriously underestimated, compared to independent analyses. One reason the EPA is keeping things under wraps is that it got tired of all the criticism.

How high are those costs likely to be? The Associated Press estimated that “more than 32 mostly coal-fired power plants in a dozen states will be forced to close because of the new, more stringent regulations. Another 36 plants are at risk of closing.” This will drain at least 14.7 gigawatts, “enough power for more than 11 million households,” off the grid between 2014 and 2015. The town manager of Glen Lyn, Virginia worries that his entire town might actually be wiped out when their power plant is shut down by the new rules.

The AP nevertheless assures us that “no lights will go dark,” which sounds less like a prediction than a prayer. How do we lose 14.7 gigawatts without any lights going dark?

And that’s a fairly lowball estimate of the impact from these plant closings. Last month, the Institute for Energy Research estimated that the true effect will be nearly double what the EPA estimates, or at least 28 gigawatts of generating capacity… and even that might not be the end of it. According to the Wall Street Journal, the highly respected North American Electric Reliability Corporation believes that “on top of the 38 gigawatts of generation that is already being run below normal levels or slated for early retirement, another 36 to 59 gigawatts will come offline by 2018, depending on the ‘scope and timing’ of EPA demands.” (Emphasis mine.)

So the total damage might be twice as bad as the Institute for Energy Research fears, and they’re predicting twice as much energy loss as the EPA. Building new power plants to take up the slack is not something that can be done quickly. As the Wall Street Journal explains, “there are bottlenecks in permitting, engineering, financing, and building a new plant and then tying it to the electricity networks.”

You know that piddly $70 or $80 bucks a month Obama has been raiding Social Security to tuck into your breast pocket? You might want to start saving that money to pay your future electric bills, with 15% to 20% increases on the table in many states, just for starters. Not to mention your skyrocketing local taxes, if you happen to live in the “coal belt” or a town that’s about to lose its coal-fired plant. Those industries pay a lot of taxes, and you’ll be expected to make up the shortfall. The Associated Press looked at one example:

Take Giles County, where American Electric Power​’s Glen Lyn plant is located, and where 44 jobs are on the line.

County Administrator Chris McKlarney worries about the $600,000 tax-revenue hit his $40 million budget will take. But that’s just one concern involving a plant and workers whose community contribution is “hard to quantify.”

“They’ve done so much donation-wise for local causes … And they’re really good people working there,” he said. “They’re coaches in Little League sports, involved in the Parent-Teacher Organization — you lose those kind of people, it’s tough.”

And they’re good jobs — stable, well-paying positions with good benefits in places where such things can be hard to find.

Good jobs are going to be much harder to find in the energy-starved America the Obama Administration has been plotting to inflict upon us.

On the bright side, you might recall a panicked President Obama, after reports of zero net job growth last summer, stammering something about how the EPA would be instructed to consider the impact of its rules upon job creation. If you recall that, please be a good citizen and strike yourself in the forehead repeatedly until you forget it. Also, please forget about Obama openly promising to destroy the coal industry during the 2008 campaign. It’s one of the few campaign promises he seems hell-bent on keeping, but we’re supposed to politely ignore it and pretend he’s a wise technocrat who cares about the middle class.

Fortunately, leaving useless White House promises aside, there is a federal agency changed with maintaining the integrity of America’s electrical power grid, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Unfortunately, they’re deadlocked over whether to take action. The Administration is eager to regulate the dickens out of Americans, but much less keen about regulating itself.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has been trying to work up Congressional legislation to delay the new EPA rules, as well as demanding an investigation into why this appendage of the Most Transparent Administration In History refuses to answer his questions about the methodology behind its new rules. Meanwhile, a thought for your last-minute Christmas shopping: flashlights and batteries make great stocking stuffers.

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