Archive for the ‘Mercury’ Category

FERC Issues Policy Statement on Advising the EPA on MATS Extensions

Photo by Titus Tscharntke. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Titus Tscharntke. Some rights reserved.

This guidance used to be just a glimmer in the commission’s eye. But as of May 17th, it’s official. That’s when FERC released its Policy Statement on the Commission’s Role Regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

The Policy Statement specifically explains how FERC will provide advice to the EPA for it to rule on requests for Administrative Orders (AO) to operate in noncompliance with EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. Last week’s Policy Statement was drawn up with consideration of all comments FERC received on a January 2012 white paper soliciting input on the staff’s position on the topic. (Our original post on the topic describes the standards and the EPA/FERC relationship in a bit more detail.)

Van Ness Feldman’s recent Alert on the topic sums up nicely both the Policy Statement and its implications:

FERC’s new Policy Statement provides that for each such extension request, it will advise EPA whether failure to grant such an extension might lead to a violation of a FERC-approved Reliability Standard.  It will not, however, recommend to EPA that the Agency grant or deny such extension requests, and will not advise EPA on potential impacts that are not within FERC’s jurisdiction over reliability standards. 


The Policy Statement has a narrow scope limited to case-by-case input to EPA on the potential reliability issues raised by individual generators retrofit or deactivation timelines that fall within FERC’s reliability jurisdiction.  FERC’s input is not binding guidance to EPA.  Moreover, the Policy Statement does not address the broad scope of reliability concerns that industry and policymakers have raised in connection with the Utility MATS rule.  Concerns such as system resource adequacy and safety, coordination to schedule outages among generators within a region, and the potential regional reliability impact of multiple base load generators that choose to deactivate rather than comply with the Utility MATS rule are not addressed in FERC’s Policy Statement.  The limited scope of the Policy Statement may prompt renewed calls by policymakers as well as industry for a more comprehensive, coordinated regional process to address the broader reliability concerns with the Utility MATS rule.

FERC Waxes Poetic on Advising EPA about MATS Extensions

Photo by Pull Strings, Push Shapes. Some rights reserved.

The same day that the EPA released the final rule on Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for power plants, it also published a Policy Memorandum outlining how it intended to handle requests for extensions in complying with the new rule. Yesterday, FERC announced how they intended to give the EPA a hand.

Section 112(i)(3) of the Clean Air Act establishes that affected sources must be compliant with MATS within three years, with an extension of up to one year available in certain cases. In addition, under Section 113(a) of the CAA – 42 USC 7413(a) – certain affected sources can obtain another one-year extension through an administrative order (AO).

The EPA’s Policy Memorandum addresses AOs issued for sources that “must operate in noncompliance with the MATS for up to a year to address a specific and documented reliability concern.” This extension would help bridge the gap when electric generating units may be needed to operate “to maintain the reliability of the electric grid when they would prefer, or could be required, to halt operations temporarily (until controls [needed to bring the unit into compliance with the new rules] can be installed).”

And this is where FERC steps in.

Because under the Federal Power Act, FERC is the regulatory agency charged with overseeing the reliability of the bulk power system, EPA plans to take advantage of FERC’s prowess. Although “the EPA’s issuance of an AO is not conditioned upon the approval or concurrence of any entity,” states the Policy Memorandum, “the EPA intends to consult, as necessary or appropriate on a case-by-case basis, with FERC and/or other entities with relevant reliability expertise.”

On January 30th, 2012, FERC released a white paper outlining the staff’s position on how FERC should advise the EPA on the requests for extensions. For instance, “Staff believes that the Commission should not permit entities to intervene in the preparation of the Commission comments to the EPA.”

One would hope not.

FERC is currently soliciting comments on the white paper under Docket No. AD12-1-000.

Two “Big Deal” Final Rules Released: Mine Safety Disclosure and Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

Photo by Grayskullduggery. Some rights reserved.

December 21st marked a day of great regulatory importance as both the SEC and EPA released final versions of rules that have been in the works for years.

The SEC published Final Rule 33-9286, “Mine Safety Disclosure,” – which implements Section 1503 of the Dodd-Frank Act – a grandiose 364 days after the proposed version hit the Federal Register. The new rule will dictate how mining companies must disclose information about mine safety and health in certain SEC filings. Now that the rule has finalized (it becomes effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Regsiter), we hope to see examples of this disclosure from more companies than just Monarch Cement Co.

Even earlier in the day came the news that the EPA had revealed its new, finalized rule setting national standards to limit mercury, acid gases and other toxic pollution from power plants. Grist called the rules a “Big Deal,” waxing poetic about how the rules “will make America a more decent, just, and humane place to live.” Grist wasn’t the only one who thought so – we thought they were landmark, too. To read more about the standards, check out the EPA’s “MATS” page.

So go ahead and mark December 21st down in your calendar. It may just go down in history.

EPA Issues Landmark Mercury Pollution Standards for Power Plants

Photo by Flickr user Kansas Poetry (Patrick). Some rights reserved.

On March 16th, facing down a final court deadline, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled the proposed rule for the first-ever national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants from coal-and-oil-fueled power plants, and the first significant legislation of its kind since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1990. These standards were developed based on the practices and results from the best functioning national plants, and would primarily regulate toxic gases such as mercury, arsenic, chromium, and nickel, as well as requiring mandatory safety upgrades and employment of effective pollution control devices for most U.S. plants. These changes have been in the works since December 2000, when the EPA first re-examined the standards proposed in the original Clean Air Act.

In a fact sheet published alongside the rule itself, the EPA offers a number of encouraging statistics that will result from the new standards. The new technologies employed would prevent 91% of mercury and acid gases and 55% of sulfur dioxide burned in power plants from escaping into the air. By 2016, according to the EPA, the legislation will prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks annually, with 120,000 fewer cases of aggravated asthma and 12,000 fewer emergency room visits. And while the rule is estimated to cost $10.9 billion annually, it will theoretically also save workers and affected persons between $59 and $140 billion in health costs, and could create as many as 31,000 short-term construction jobs implementing the new technology and 9,000 long-term utility-based jobs.

As the EPA has recently come under scrutiny from Republican lawmakers for enforcing new climate rules that the GOP argues could cripple the already troublesome federal budget, these new emission standards may be looked upon with some skepticism. However, the EPA, in their press release for the rule, assures skeptics that the new standards align strictly with an executive order signed into action by President Obama in January that requires new regulation by federal agencies to be as cost effective as possible.

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