In a briefing last week, PACE spoke to incoming members of the Alabama Legislature about the importance of smart energy policy for the state and region. Among the topics discussed were Alabama’s energy infrastructure, the mechanics of delivering power, and federal legislation that affects the price and availability of electricity. Freshmen members of the legislature, as well as some returning legislative leaders, were in town for orientation activities and many chose to participate in the evening briefing.
“Maintaining a strong energy system is one of the most important issues facing Alabama,” said freshman Senator Clyde Chambliss of Prattville, who represents District 30. “The briefing PACE provided helped open my eyes to the importance of regulations coming down from the federal government and how those affect the people I represent.”
Key among the regulations discussed was the recently implemented mercury rule, which has already required the spending of hundreds of million of dollars by the state’s utilities to upgrade existing coal-fired power plants. PACE also discussed the EPA’s pending carbon dioxide regulation, a new standard for ground-level ozone, and a pending decision for how to treat coal ash. The regulations, PACE explained to the group, are likely to increase the cost of power significantly.
“Alabama has some of the most affordable and reliable electricity in the country, and that has been good for business and good for families,” said Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, who represents the state’s 5th District. “It is critical to have a voice like PACE giving consumers the truth about energy and educating lawmakers about the responsible way forward.”
Members also received a briefing on water policy by Trey Glenn, former director of the state’s Office of Water Resources, and a briefing on climate-related issues from Dr. John Christy, Alabama’s state climatologist.
The following guest blog comes from Baldwin County (AL) Commissioner Tucker Dorsey.
In recent weeks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will pursue stricter standards for ground level ozone. Today, the standard for compliance is 75 parts per billion (ppb). If EPA has its way, the new standard will be between 65 ppb and 70 ppb. Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy has even stated that EPA will look at a standard as low as 60 ppb.
Why does that matter to the average person? Because meeting EPA’s ozone standard has broad implications for local communities, including consequences for economic development. At best, an ozone reading above the approved threshold could trigger so-called “non-attainment” for a community, entailing a costly planning process and burdensome regulatory red tape. At worst, failing to meet the ozone standard could mean a shutdown of new industry.
Those familiar with the current ozone standard of 75 ppb know that five Alabama counties are today struggling today to stay in the good graces of the federal government. These are counties with large industrial bases. Under a new tougher ozone standard of even 70 ppb, every major city in Alabama would likely fail the new EPA standard. Under the strictest standard, every county air monitor east of the Mississippi River could enter non-attainment. This classification essentially means no new sources of emissions in the affected region, hitting the pause button on an already sputtering economy.
Consider for a moment a new report that highlights the sheer absurdity of what EPA is proposing. An investigation by the American Action Forum found that at least one hundred national and state parks would fail to meet EPA’s new standard. Death Valley National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Cape Cod National Seashore all have ozone readings of 71 ppb to 87 ppb. Even an air monitor in the Wyoming portion of Yellowstone National Park yielded an ozone reading of 63 ppb. If carefully preserved national parks with no industry can’t manage to meet EPA’s new ozone standard, what hope does a growing community hoping to build new jobs?
EPA’s misguided policy could soon cause Baldwin County, where I serve as county commissioner, to fall into ozone non-attainment. At more than 1,600 square miles, the county is one of the largest counties east of the Mississippi, bigger even than Rhode Island. Yet, EPA’s single air monitoring station – yes, there is only one in the county – sits on the far west side of the county about a mile from Mobile Bay in a town of 15,326 with no major emissions. Rather than measuring ozone actually produced in Baldwin County, of which there is little, the monitor captures ozone blowing from as far away as Texas on prevailing winds from the Southwest.
EPA’s absurd placement of this air monitor, combined with stricter new rules, could endanger my community’s efforts to create new jobs. It could even jeopardize road expansion projects. Maybe most unfortunate is that there is very little – perhaps nothing – that the leaders of Baldwin County can do to change ozone readings in our community. For an air quality measure we can’t control, we are subject to a standard we cannot hope to meet.
As I wrote about the potential of new EPA ozone standards more than three years ago, the danger that Baldwin County faces only underscores what is becoming more and more clear: that the EPA is not only setting U.S. environmental policy, but the agency is beginning to set American economic policy. By issuing standards that are nearly impossible to meet, the EPA is over-stepping its bounds and hurting, not helping, our nation. The agency is certainly poised to hurt Baldwin County and the families and businesses that all it home.
The following is a guest blog from Tim Echols, a member of the Georgia Public Service Commission.
Much has been made about the new Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule regulating greenhouse gases. Everyone agrees it is complex, controversial and impactful. To better understand its negative impact on Georgia, one need only compare it to a “diet.”
First, think about the EPA rule as a way to lose carbon dioxide—what we’ll call the “fat” for the purposes of this illustration. Each state’s fossil fuel plants’s output is totaled up, and the EPA assigns a “reduction” that has to be attained by 2030. Sounds simple and fair, right? Not so fast. The devil is in the details.
To a skinny person, a diet is no big deal. But this is not just any diet. There is a personal trainer in Washington DC (the EPA) setting the “goal weight” and Georgia, along with a few other states, has been deemed very fat—in fact, we are obese by their standards.
Now if you have ever been overweight, you know how difficult weight loss can be. There are many ways to lose weight—eating less, eating better, exercise and even some unhealthy options. While the EPA doesn’t mandate exactly how we are to lose all this CO2 weight, their chief trainer at the EPA has a stick and is prepared to use it.
Let’s start with eating less—in this case, using less energy. I am all for better efficiency, but this EPA dietary rule doesn’t allow for economic development. Have you ever been on a workout plan where things were going well—you were exercising furiously, burning calories, and losing weight ? You see your caloric intake go up, but it doesn’t matter because you are burning far more than you take in. The EPA rule in question doesn’t allow for economic growth and development—something all of us in Georgia work hard to increase each and every day. We are “open for business” in our state, and we want to attract more companies like Caterpillar, Baxter and other heavy energy users. Any rule requiring economic stagnation is not good for Georgia or the country.
“Eating better” is an important part of any diet, and Georgia has been doing that for years. Unfortunately, our EPA “trainer” in Washington is asking for more. We have cut pollutants like Nitrous Oxide, Sulfur and Mercury by huge amounts by spending billions on our existing coal plants and converting units to natural gas, which has about half the greenhouse gas of coal. Now the trainer is changing the dietary rules again making us wonder why we spent money cleaning those coal plants in the first place. And in this case, our ratepayers are being punished with the prospects of stranding billions in plant assets.
Exercise is a critical component in any diet, and in my illustration Georgia has exercised an option to build new nuclear units at Plant Vogtle. This is a bold step—like running a marathon or half-marathon, or doing an Iron-Man competition. If you have ever attempted such a feat, you know that it requires miles and miles of weekly training. Imagine being 200 pounds overweight and setting a goal to lose those pounds with a crowning achievement of running the Boston Marathon. Your trainer in Washington, however, says that because you planned to run the race and paid your registration fee before her dietary regiment was created, you can’t count the weight loss that will occur as a result of that training. That is what has happened in Georgia. We set out to build a new state-of-the-art nuclear power plant and we are about half way done. But the EPA trainer in Washington is assuming that the carbon reduction achieved by the plant is already in place. You can see how demoralizing such a calculation would be.
This entire rule is a bit like being required to become a vegetarian forever when all that was required to lose weight was cutting back on red meat, or just eating more grilled chicken. Georgia needs the fuel diversity in our energy production, and the EPA rule greatly limits our food choices. Georgia’s leaders are pleading with the EPA to revise its rule and make it fairer to our state. In the meantime, get out your check book. If you think the down payment for this re-work of our energy plan is expensive, wait till you see the monthly installments.