Waging War on Coal

EPA haze plans designed to circumvent court rulings


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has expanded its control of state regulations known as Regional Haze Rule in order to impose more stringent regulations on coal-fired power plants and avoid the judicial injunction against air quality regulations that it tried to impose in 2011.

The EPA imposed haze plans on North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Nebraska in 2011 and 2012 that will increase energy compliance costs by almost $375 million. It also rejected plans in Wyoming and Arizona, demanding stricter regulations that would add at least $200 million to energy production, according to William Yeatman, an environmental regulations expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“Ultimately every state will face this; Ohio, Pennsylvania, everyone,” Yeatman said. “The EPA positioned Regional Haze to stand in for other regulations that didn’t pass constitutional muster. It is clearly moving aggressively to extend these rules to all coal-fired plants.”

The EPA attempted to usher in new regulatory processes for coal with the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, which would have enabled the department to cap emissions for power plants operating in the states because pollution can travel across state lines. A federal appeals court blocked the rule from taking effect in 2011 and struck it down in August 2012, citing the rule’s onerous requirements and regulatory overreach.

The courts may have thwarted the rule from taking effect, but that did not prevent the department from using its costly guidelines on existing regulation such as the Regional Haze Rule, a 1999 standard that requires states to enhance visibility in federal parks. The EPA allowed the states to count existing air quality standards, such as the Clean Air Interstate Rules, toward its haze plans.

The EPA replaced the Clean Air Interstate Rules baseline with the more stringent Cross State Air Pollution Rule in May 2012 despite being on shaky legal ground. The agency then assumed the authority not only to approve haze plans, but also to replace them with federal plans if states refused to comply.

“EPA has been working with all states to take action on their regional haze plans for protecting visibility in our national parks and other areas. Most of these actions have been approvals,” spokeswoman Enesta Jones said.

Mark Lewis sits on the board of the Central Arizona Project, a public water management system that relies on the Navajo Generating Station’s coal plants to pump water throughout the state. He said the Regional Haze Rules proposed by the EPA would “destroy 65 years and $4 billion of infrastructure investments” because they would force the Navajo Station to spend $1 billion on upgrades. This has left the state no choice but to challenge the haze rules.

“This is targeted to shut down coal plants and they’re going to end up bankrupting the largest tribe in the country, as well as the farmers that use it for their water supply and the taxpayers who use it for electricity,” he said. “The EPA and environmental activists have overplayed their hands in these job-killing regulations.”

North Dakota Republican Senate hopeful Rep. Rick Berg has spearheaded the GOP’s efforts to stymie the EPA’s efforts to rein in coal at the state level. In September, he proposed the Regional Haze Federalism Act, which would have returned control of the regulations to the states.

“In North Dakota, we care about the environment and know how to protect it best. We don’t need the EPA’s one-size-fits-all regulatory overreach threatening our way of life,” said Berg spokesman Chris Van Guilder.

Van Guilder said the defense of North Dakota’s energy resources is imperative. The state weathered the Great Recession better than nearly any state thanks to the natural gas and coal industry. Unemployment barely topped four percent at the height of economic unrest and sits at three percent now.

Additionally, Berg has proposed the Energy Consumer Protection Act, which would prevent the EPA from finalizing regulations that would raise electrical costs for consumers by three percent or more.

The Obama administration is sitting on a slew of regulations that could increase energy costs by up to $700 billion, according to the Manhattan Institute. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.) has waged a battle in the Senate to rein in the EPA, but a Democratic majority in that chamber has enabled the agency to extend its reach.

Berg said energy would be a deciding factor in his neck-in-neck race against former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp.

“[The EPA] is proof that President Obama’s overbearing, top-down, one-size-fits-all regulatory approach simply doesn’t work,” Van Guilder said. “Rick will continue to fight against the EPA’s senseless, overbearing regulations … conversely, Heidi Heitkamp supports President Obama for President, which would mean four more years of the Obama EPA, and Harry Reid for Majority Leader, who said ‘oil and gas make us sick,’ and ‘are ruining our country.’”

Heitkamp, who has attempted to distance herself from Obama on the campaign trail, did not return requests for comment.

Lewis said the Senate would be instrumental to shaping EPA policy moving forward.

“It all comes down to the Senate,” he said. “The EPA will keep moving unless there is legislation barring them from wantonly disregarding the 10th Amendment.”

In October, Utah joined Wyoming and Arizona on the EPA’s rejection list. Those states have until Nov. 2013 to develop EPA-approved plans, according to the department.

The Department of Justice, meanwhile, is appealing the decision to strike the Cross State Air Pollution.

Bill McMorris   Email Bill | Full Bio | RSS
Bill McMorris is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He joins the Beacon from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where he was managing editor of Old Dominion Watchdog. He was a 2010 Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation, where he studied state pension shortfalls. His work has been featured on CNN, Fox News, The Economist, Colbert Report, and numerous print publications and radio stations. He is a 2008 Cornell University graduate and lives in Alexandria, Va with his wife Teresa and daughter Olivia. His Twitter handle is @FBillMcMorris. His email address is mcmorris@freebeacon.com.