By STATE SEN. ED WALKER
Take a good, long look at your latest electricity bill, because there’s a very good chance it could be skyrocketing in the near future.
The culprit is a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation called the Utility Maximum Achievable Control Technology (UMACT) rule. On paper it’s supposed to control mercury and a host of other emissions from coal-based power plants.
In reality it sets a standard that many plants can’t possibly meet by the 2015 deadline, forcing them to shut down and forcing your electricity bills to go up.
Why would EPA impose this economically hazardous rule? Because it never bothered to examine its cost in the first place.
EPA guessed its utility rule would cost “only” $11 billion annually; private experts put the cost at almost double that amount, projecting electricity prices to rise between 12 percent and 24 percent and cost more than 1.4 million lost jobs.
Incredibly, a regulation the White House admits is the most expensive in history was rolled out of Washington with scant regard for its impacts on local electricity costs or employment.
Coal is not a new subject to Montanans. We rank No. 5 in the nation in coal production, and rely on coal for 4,790 jobs and a combined payroll of $273 million.
Coal provides 63 percent of Montana’s electricity, powering the equivalent of 305,000 homes and 23,000 businesses. That puts Montana No. 16 in the nation in energy affordability, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Additionally, EPA’s coal plant closings may also threaten the reliability of the electric power grid. In the middle of a torrid summer or brutal winter, can we truly afford brownouts or electricity rationing? A recent study by the federal agency that manages electricity supply warned that EPA’s rule raises serious doubts about reliability of the power grid.
EPA has dismissed these concerns over costs and supply as overstated. But in the wake of issuing its utility rule and another rule targeting power plants, power companies announced expected plant closings that, altogether, supply more than five times the amount of electricity EPA estimated would be lost.
So if the UMACT rule takes effect, many jobs, low utility bills and grid reliability may very well be things of the past.
Surprisingly for a regulation designed to reduce mercury emissions, the utility rule actually provides virtually no related benefits. As EPA itself admits, power plant mercury emissions have fallen by almost 50 percent in the past five years, not risen, and most of the emissions reductions promised in this rule have already been achieved by other rules already in place.
As for the global environmental benefits, they’re virtually nil. The U.S. contributes only 1 percent of global mercury emissions; Asian countries contribute 53 percent. The problem is that EPA doesn’t regulate China and India.
Montanans shouldn’t pay for EPA’s mistakes. Fortunately, some in Congress agree. In the next few days the Senate will vote on a bipartisan resolution to stop EPA from imposing its mistaken rules on states like ours that rely on coal-based power.
Montana is “Big Sky” country. We know a thing or two about fresh air here, so we aren’t saying “no” to environmental improvement. But we are saying “no” to an EPA rule that delivers little improvement at great cost.
Sen. Walker represents Senate District 29 in Yellowstone County. He serves on the Energy and Telecommunications and Natural Resources Committees.