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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - "Indiana impact of high court's decision on emissions rules uncertain"

The SCOTUS decision Monday in Utility Air Group v. EPA (ILB post here) was the subject of a useful long story yesterday in the $$ Bloomington Herald Times, reported by Ernest Rollins. Some quotes:

Interest groups differ on what effect Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, which put the brakes on regulation of coal plants’ mercury emissions, will have on the state.

In Michigan v. the Environmental Protection Agency, justices voted 5 to 4 that the EPA needs to consider the costs associated with limiting power plants’ mercury emissions as part of the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards.

That means the proposed rules will have to be revised to take such costs into account and weigh those costs against health risks before ordering emissions reductions.

Bruce Stevens, president of the Indiana Coal Council, said while he was pleased with the court’s decision, it comes too late. Stevens said the time it took for the case to go through the court was longer than the period companies had to become compliant, forcing utility companies to either begin installing costly new technologies to comply or shut down.

“Plants are going totally offline or switching from coal to other fuel sources because of the MATS regulation,” Stevens said, referring to Indianapolis Power & Light’s decision to switch the Harding Street power plant from coal to other energy sources.

Environmentalists are not happy with the decision either, but for different reasons. Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said he was disappointed with the ruling because it creates uncertainty about whether the issue of mercury emissions from coal-powered plants will be addressed.

“The practical reality of the ruling is it puts power companies in a state of uncertainty,” Kharbanda said

Some power plants already have proceeded to install mercury controls, he said, and those that have not done so will hopefully follow in order to better protect communities from the dangerous emissions.

Stevens said the costs that would be incurred in plant upgrades to meet the regulations would increase both residential and industrial energy bills. Gov. Mike Pence called that detrimental to Hoosiers.

“For too long, the repercussions of costly regulations and federal overreach have been overlooked in Washington, where the administration’s approach to energy policy has placed environmental concerns above all others,” Pence said in a statement on the ruling.

But Kharbanda said those opposing regulation aren’t telling the whole story when they claim the rules would increase Indiana’s electricity rates.

“It is not telling the full and accurate picture,” Kharbanda said.

The average Indiana plant is more than 40 years old, he said, and aging power plants require upgrades and modernization regardless of federal policies. Money will have to be spent for that, he said.

Jim Barnes, a former dean of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, said that both the court’s majority and dissenters agreed costs need to be considered in drawing up such rules.

But estimates of costs varied dramatically in the opposing opinions. * * *

Barnes said that while costs to the coal industry increase with regulation, it is fair to weigh those costs with benefits such as improving people’s health, which is seriously threatened as mercury levels build up in waterways and fish make their way through the food chain to humans, where the element can affect the nervous system and brain, especially in children.

The decision sends the case back to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Barnes said in the long run, the Supreme Court’s decision is not going to deter the EPA from regulating mercury emissions, but the agency will have to produce some additional analysis before moving forward with the rules.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 2, 2015 10:42 AM
Posted to Environment | Indiana Government