Citing what it terms significant human health impacts and a court mandated deadline, US EPA on March 16, 2011, announced a proposal to reduce emission of mercury and other toxics, including arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases. The EPA announcement is short on specifics, other than to say that its proposal will reduce mercury emissions by 91%, but EPA nonetheless states that it projects that the new standards will prevent “as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year.” EPA adds that “the new proposed standards would also provide particular health benefits for children, preventing 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year. The proposed standards would also avert more than 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions and 850,000 fewer days of work missed due to illness.”
EPA projects that construction of controls by EGUs to comply with the new standards will result in 31,000 short term construction jobs and 9,000 long term utility jobs. Significantly, EPA also estimates that the cost of compliance with the new standards will result in retirement of only 1% of the utility coal fleet, estimating that 10 GW of generating capacity will be retired out of a current total of 1104 GW of capacity. However, that retirement figure is much lower than percentages estimated by the EGU regulated community. Moreover, the estimated benefits of the program are difficult to analyze since the EPA announcement provides no details on reductions of any of the other toxics to be regulated.
EPA’s proposed rule provides up to 4 years for EGU facilities to meet the standards and EPA notes that, once the standards are fully implemented, they will prevent 91 percent of mercury in coal from being released into the air. The announcement does not specify the amounts of reductions of any of the other toxics the standard will cover.
EPA estimates in its proposal announcement that, for every dollar spent to reduce EGU emissions, there will be a concomitant health and economic benefit of up to $13. Total health and economic benefits of the proposed standard are estimated by EPA at as much as $140 billion on an annual basis. EPA future cost of power projections also predict that the cost of power as a result of compliance with the new standards will be lower by 2030 than the EIA 2030 future cost projections without the proposed rule in place. Those cost estimates will undoubtedly be the subject of voluminous public comment since it is difficult to understand how the estimated cost of power in 2030 without the rule can be higher than the estimated cost of power with the rule in place as shown on EPA slides used during the announcement.
The EPA announcement also notes that the proposed standard “puts a premium on important input and feedback from stakeholders to inform any final standard,” adding that “the public comment period, which will last 60 days after appearing in the Federal Register, will allow stakeholders including the public, industry and public health communities, to provide important input and feedback, ensuring that any final standard maximizes public health benefits while minimizing costs.”
EPA will hold public hearings in Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Chicago on the proposal on dates yet to be determined.
This article was authored by Skipp Kropp, Jackson Kelly PLLC. For more information on the author see here.