NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 4, 2008

When environmentalists oppose regulations that yield environmental benefits, something is afoot.  So it is with the gathering furor over a possible Bush Administration upgrade of U.S. clean-air regulations.  Senate Democrats have voiced their concerns to the Environmental Protection Agency, but this rule was first proposed in 2005, and the Administration may -- or may not -- get around to issuing a final verdict before Bush leaves office, says the Wall Street Journal.

The proposal in question would usefully reform a permitting test called New Source Review (NSR), which requires power plants to install state-of-the-art pollution controls when they expand their generation capacity, thus increasing smog- or soot-forming emissions.

The real question is what qualifies as an emission increase, asks the Journal:

  • As plants operate, they deteriorate, meaning they produce less power and also less emissions.
  • Routine maintenance restores both to their original capacity, but not further.
  • Under the current NSR regime, the EPA often compares premaintenance and postmaintenance emissions and calls the latter a "new source" of pollution.
  • The new rule would move the baseline to hourly emissions from cumulative emissions, giving utilities some leeway before they are required to run the NSR gauntlet.

However, opponents claim that efficiency projects mean that the plant in question will be run harder and therefore increase overall emissions.  But electricity is produced to meet demand, which grows with the economy but is relatively stable.  In other words, the new plan will redistribute generation to those plants that are most eco-friendly.

In any case, overall emissions can't increase because emissions for the entire United States are capped under the Clean Air Act.  Therefore, the Bush Administration ought to move ahead: its NSR reform will improve the safety and reliability of the country's power supply, and it will force an open debate, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "New Source Rescue: Trying to kill coal plants on the sly," Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2008.

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