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    House GOP Renews Fears EPA Power Plant GHG Plan Would Harm Grid

    June 7, 2023 - InsideEPA/Climate


      June 6, 2023 Tweet House Republicans are renewing their concerns that the EPA's proposal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants might cause major grid reliability issues, reprising one of their core lines of attack even as supporters of the plan argue such concerns are overblown.

      "EPA has sought to use the Clean Air Act [CAA] to restructure the American power sector by shutting down coal-fired power plants and shifting electricity generation to weather-dependent sources," charged House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) during a June 6 hearing of the committee's environment panel focused on EPA's power plant GHG proposal.

      "These efforts to transform the nation's electricity system would have damaging and lasting effects on reliability for Americans across the country and would go well beyond the EPA's congressionally mandated authority," she added.

      Republicans and their allied witnesses focused attacks on concerns that the rule would force early retirements of coal and natural gas power that currently forms about 60 percent of the nation's power supply -- a move they say jeopardizes grid reliability.

      Witnesses cited several warnings from regional power authorities such as PJM Interconnection, as well as the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), that the grid already faces tight operating conditions. Patrick O'Loughlin, president of the power cooperative Buckeye Power, testified that he believes the proposed rule's "unrealistic timeframes" would further stress a grid that is "already straining to provide reliable, continuous service."

      In response to that and other concerns, full committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) argued: "We've heard these claims before, and none of them are true."

      Subcommittee ranking member Paul Tonko (D-NY) added that he believes EPA "has taken a sensible, flexible, targeted and certainly achievable approach to reduce emissions from some of the largest carbon polluters in our country."

      The agency has touted its May 11 proposal as including "the flexibility that power companies and grid operators need to plan for achieving feasible and necessary reductions of GHGs from these sources consistent with the EPA's statutory charge while ensuring grid reliability."

      Such flexibilities include years-long lead times before any major GHG control requirements take effect, as well as exemptions for new gas "peaker" plants, smaller existing gas plants or those that run less often and for coal plants retiring within the next 16 years.

      In a press release responding to the hearing, Evergreen Action power sector policy chief Charles Harper wrote House Republicans are "doing what they always do: attacking the legitimacy of any action that ramps down fossil-fueled pollution simply because it would inconvenience their Big Oil buddies."

      'Real Consultation'

      At the hearing, GOP lawmakers pressed EPA to extend the proposed rule's comment period to allow for external reliability analyses -- also charging the agency must revamp what they said was inadequate stakeholder consultation.

      EPA should allow for an independent reliability analysis from NERC and grid managers, since current predictions were made prior to EPA's proposal, Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH) said.

      Republican lawmakers in a June 6 letter to EPA sought to double the rule's 60-day comment period.

      In response to questions from Rodgers, utility lawyer Michael Nasi, of the firm Jackson Walker, further charged that EPA failed to sufficiently confer with grid experts on reliability.

      "This [rule] needs to be rebooted with real consultation, not just with NERC, FERC, but also with the regional transmission organizations and ultimately those that have the sovereign power over the grid -- the states," he said.

      Nasi also asserted that "EPA's [reliability] models, frankly, are not credible." He argued that they "conflict specifically with many of my clients' plans" about whether different coal plants would shut down independent of the rule.

      On the issue of states' rights to determine their own electricity fuel mix, subcommittee Chairman Bill Johnson (R-OH) argued the plan would unlawfully force states to change their portfolio. "This blatantly contradicts a state's right to choose its own electric generation mix, which is a core component of the Federal Power Act," he argued.

      Various GOP lawmakers and their witnesses also argued that the proposed rule is already introducing reliability risks. Nasi asserted that many power plants will retire because of the "immediate doubt" the rule is causing utilities as they consider whether plants make sense over the long term.

      Every day, Nasi testified, utility officials "are making capital decisions about 'Can I afford to keep on putting money into a plant?' and they always evaluate how much life do I have. And if I've got a 30-year remaining useful life that just got cut down to 10 [because of the rule], I'm not going to make a capital investment -- that's what accelerates the retirements."

      Todd Snitchler, president of the Electric Power Supply Association (EPSA), agreed that co-ops in particular "are always looking for some degree of certainty that would ensure the long-term viability and low-cost operation," given that co-ops are committed to keeping costs low for members.

      O'Loughlin asserted that Buckeye Power will "likely be required to shut down all of our coal units by 2030 which currently supply more than 80 percent of our annual energy requirements, and we have nearly no hope of replacing this generation in that short time frame."

      But Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) pushed back, arguing that New York is on a path to achieving 70 percent renewable energy "without significant reliability concerns."

      'Technology Forcing'

      Jay Duffy, Clean Air Task Force litigation director, also testified that the CAA is "technology forcing" -- meaning that EPA can adopt standards based on technologies that may not be widespread today, but will become increasingly prevalent over time.

      In many cases, Duffy said, industry needs a nudge from regulation or incentives to implement emissions control technology widely. "The Clean Air Act has driven American innovation for decades," Duffy said.

      Democrats and environmentalists also note that industry often complies more quickly than it says it is able -- undercutting Republicans' reliability concerns. This was the case, they said, with the Obama EPA's Clean Power Plan, for which industry met GHG targets a decade ahead of schedule even though the rule was never implemented and was formally scrapped by the Supreme Court last summer. -- Abigail Mihaly (


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