Utility MACT Raises National Security Concerns

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Could EPA’s new Utility MACT rule pose a threat to national security? At least one U.S. utility believes it might. In a recent report from the National Journal, Thomas Farrell, CEO of Virginia-based Dominion, stated that his company might ask the Obama Administration to exempt one of its coal-fired plants from EPA’s latest regulation restricting emissions from coal-fired power generation.

While EPA’s Utility MACT rule allows a brief three-year window for compliance, a little known provision in the Clean Air Act would allow the president, through an executive order, to exempt a company or facility from any EPA rule for two years, or even longer if necessary. The president may grant such a reprieve if he “determines that the technology to implement such standard is not available and that it is in the national security interests of the United States to do so.”

In this case, the facility in question is the Chesapeake Energy Center on the Virginia coast, a coal-fired power plant that provides electricity to southeast Virginia, home to a number of major military installations, including the largest naval complex in the world. According to Farrell, the timelines imposed by Utility MACT could result in the shuttering of significant power capacity, potentially causing shortages in areas with military bases. Endangering the reliable flow of power to military bases, Dominion reasons, could pose real threats to national security.

For now, Dominion is not certain it will seek the exemption. For now, the utility plans to replace the current coal-fired plant with a natural gas facility, although the company’s leaders are not certain it can meet the EPA deadline.

“Dominion’s concern over reliability typifies the concerns that PACE and many others have about the effects of Utility MACT. I live in a congressional district with three major military bases. Will this regulation threaten the operation of those bases?,” asked Lance Brown, PACE Executive Director. “We believe it is time for policy makers, especially our leaders in Congress, to start demanding answers from EPA on those kinds of questions.”