Thursday, December 01, 2011

Washington Whispers: why on earth would President Obama give an unprecedented special exemption to dirty power companies?

As you know, the plot continues to evolve over the EPA’s upcoming mercury/toxic pollution standards for power plants, with leading companies now pressing hard at the White House for various delays and loopholes. As the National Journal reported (below), even a cleaner power company that has tried hard to scrub its image has joined with its dirtier Edison Electric Institute frat brothers to press for weaker requirements.

One such request – or should I say demand? – involves use of the so-called presidential exemption in the Clean Air Act. If you are not familiar with it, see
And specifically
(4) Presidential exemption
The President may exempt any stationary source from compliance with any standard or limitation under this section for a period of not more than 2 years if the President 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. An exemption under this paragraph may be extended for 1 or more additional periods, each period not to exceed 2 years. The President shall report to Congress with respect to each exemption (or extension thereof) made under this paragraph.
This provision is like the ultimate safety valve, and clearly wasn’t meant to be used except in the case of a genuine emergency. (As you probably know, the Clean Air Act already gives companies 3 years to clean up, with a possible extension of a fourth year.)

Further delays and loopholes seem to be nothing but a gift to industry. (Even DOE now says the EPA standards won’t pose a reliability threat )

But the Edison Electric Institute is trying to exploit this exemption and broaden it into an institutionalized Obama Loophole. EEI floated some illogical concepts in its official comments, arguing that a “national security” exemption should apply if a delay is certified by a non-governmental organization like NERC or an RTO to be “consistent with the state-approved integrated resource plan (or similar state process).” Consistent, in other words, with a company-designed road map. A rather cheesy way, don’t you think, to justify spewing more poisons?)

We understand the latest EEI pitch includes trying to institutionalize this exemption by seeking that it be written directly into EPA’s preamble and/or rule itself, and possibly asking that the President delegate his authority directly to the EPA.

Now we generally like the EPA, but this idea of an Obama Loophole is only being floated because the companies think they can exploit it further if it’s actually written into the rule or preamble. The question of the moment: why would the White House possibly entertain such an outlandish demand?

Consider that the Obama re-election campaign is already claiming credit for this rule!!
Improving the quality of our air
Under President Obama’s watch, the Environmental Protection Agency has set up the first national standards for mercury emissions and other dangerous chemicals from coal and oil-fired power plants.

The new rules will help to clear our skies of pollutants that can make health problems like asthma and bronchitis worse, saving up to 17,000 lives each year.
Yes, that is the Obama re-election campaign noting that each year of delay could mean up to 17,000 premature deaths.

So why would on earth would the President and his staff permit these standards to be undermined by insider lobbying?

Is there some unreported personal relationship involved?

As you probably know, one of the critical EEI lobbyists is Brian Wolff, former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He was, for example, documented at an OMB meeting with White House big dogs like Cass Sunstein and Heather Zichal.

Wolff raised so much campaign cash for Democrats in the 2010 elections that Politico dubbed him the “King of Democratic bundlers.”

We will continue tracking this and related angles to this still-evolving story.

Below is the story I referenced if you haven’t already seen it.

Clean-Energy Company Joins Call for More Time on EPA Rules
By Amy Harder

Coal companies aren’t the only ones who want the Obama administration to give at least one year—and more if necessary—for utilities to comply with new clean-air rules.

Lewis Hay, chairman and CEO of NextEra Energy, the largest generator of wind and solar power in the country, told National Journal on Wednesday that he thinks the Environmental Protection Agency should give all companies one more year to comply with the agency’s mercury standard that EPA is expected to finalize by Dec. 16. He says that extra year is critical to ensure utilities can continue providing electricity without putting at risk grid reliability when old plants get retrofitted or replaced with cleaner plants. Current law requires companies to comply with EPA’s mercury standard by 2015.
“It’s hard to get anybody’s assurances that they will get the flexibility they need the way the draft rule proposal has been written,” Hay said in a telephone interview on Wednesday evening. “That’s why I strongly support the one-year blanket extension.”
Hay takes that position despite confidence that his company, which produces 50 percent of its capacity from wind energy, would be just fine without more time. “We will be in full compliance on time in the initial three-year period,” he said. “We will not have any reliability issues."
Hay's views coincide with the official position of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents 70 percent of the U.S. power industry. Hay is vice chairman of EEI and a member of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
Hay also said he supports EEI’s request that Obama issue an executive order that could give certain companies at least two more years to comply if national security were at risk. In industry circles, this is known as the “presidential exemption” outlined in Section 112 of the Clean Air Act. If a power plant generating electricity for a military base is shut down because of an EPA rule, the reasoning goes, that could present a national-security concern.
Hay argued that the administration should be ready to “potentially utilize the presidential exemption.”
Kathleen Barron, vice president for federal regulatory affairs and policy at Exelon, the nation’s biggest nuclear-reactor company and also one of the biggest supporters of EPA rules, said at a conference on Wednesday that her company would also support the presidential exemption in limited situations.

National Journal reported earlier this week that utilities with coal-fired power plants—which would be most affected by EPA's mercury rules—are urging the administration to use the presidential exemption to provide companies more time to comply with the regulations.

No comments: