Opinion

EPA’s Irresponsible Punt

Since the day the Environmental Protection Agency rolled out its “Clean Power Plan” last June, EPA’s hastiness – and their willful dismissal of issues critical to consumers and the health of our economy – has become increasingly clear. But when confronted by the challenges resulting from their decision to prioritize politics over realities, the EPA’s response has most often been the bureaucratic equivalent of “not our problem.”

Putting aside the question of whether the CPP as a whole is unworkable (it is), the more immediate problems at hand stem from EPA’s refusal to consult relevant technical experts during the drafting process, instead crafting their proposal to fit political goals. Nowhere is this clearer than on the critical issue of grid reliability – simply put, whether sufficient electricity exists to meet consumer needs.

The issue of grid reliability is not within the purview of EPA regulators; rather, it is overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. And while common sense would suggest that EPA regulators should have consulted FERC during the drafting process, two FERC commissioners stated that that was not the case. In response to written questions from members of Congress, FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller stated that neither he nor his staff “participated in the development of the Clean Power Plan proposal,” and expressed concerns that “EPA lacks sufficient understanding and expertise to fully consider the reliability impacts of their proposed rules on the nation’s electric and natural gas sectors,” a sentiment echoed by Commissioner Tony Clark.

Moeller and Clark were not alone in voicing these concerns; in fact, they were echoed by other experts, including five Regional Transmission Organizations and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. Their reports on the CPP have ranged from the diplomatic – NERC noted that “Essential Reliability Services (ERS) may be strained by the proposed CPP” – to the New York Independent System Operator’s blunt statement that the CPP’s targets for carbon emission reductions from power plants in their region “cannot be sustained while maintaining reliable electric service to New York City.”

One might think that these clearly-stated concerns – including the prospect of blackouts in New York City – from expert regulators, would give EPA a moment’s pause, but that has not been the case. Rather, their response could be best summarized as “not our problem – you do something about it.” The flippancy of EPA’s reaction demonstrates the absence of any real concern on their part for critical issues of grid reliability and affordable electricity, while simultaneously (but only tacitly) admitting that perhaps the CPP is imperfect. But it once again also begs the larger question: why were FERC, NERC, and the RTOs, as well as state public utility commissioners from across the country, not consulted throughout the CPP drafting process? The answer, of course, is the CPP is, at its heart, a purely political document.

The core of the CPP is the individual state emissions reduction targets. However, EPA has decreed that any state which does not submit a plan will have an agency-drafted “model plan” foisted upon it. Many states have already refused to play along with this charade. Until EPA acknowledges the deep – in many cases unworkable flaws – of the CPP, and takes it upon itself to address them, other states should follow suit for the sake of their citizens.

 

 

Terry M. Jarrett is an attorney with Healy Law Offices, LLC in Jefferson City, MO.   He is a former Commissioner of the Missouri Public Service Commission.

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