By Luke Popovich
Before guests visit your place, you typically clean it up. It’s a courtesy of course. But, truth be told, you don’t want them to see how you really live. I even clean up before my cleaning lady arrives.
In effect, this is what the administration did last year. Facing close and potentially critical scrutiny from us voters, the administration wanted to clean up its act before November’s election arrived. Hide from sight those unsightly regulations, the polarizing regulators, and the executive actions that have damaged coal and the economy—and the administration’s re-election prospects in battleground states. In other words, the noisy kids were sent to their rooms, ashtrays were emptied, and the carpets were cleaned before the guests arrived.
Well, now the guests have left. The voters have turned their attention away from Washington to more immediate crises and won’t be back for a couple of years. The administration is free to live as it prefers.
That means all of the pending regulations, many aimed at our heads that were slow-walked or hidden away before the election, are coming out of the closet now. Put another way, “They’re about to turn on the regulatory spigot,” said NMA’s Senior Vice President Bruce Watzman. So this year as the NMA seeks opportunities for more cooperation wherever possible, the NMA will also be active in the courts and in the Congress, blunting regulations that make no sense and softening the ones that might.
Just a partial overview of what to expect would include the following rules either being implemented now or pending and due soon.
As I mentioned last month, the most sweeping, long-term damage is likely to come from the fist-full of air quality rules cooked up by the EPA and its enablers in the environmental community. Chief among these is the rule for controlling greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Expect to see standards for new plants this spring—and as a result expect to see no new coal plants built in the U.S.
You may wonder: How can a greenhouse gas control standard that is based on a technology that doesn’t exist for coal and that therefore effectively rules coal out for future electricity generation can possibly be good for a country with more coal than any other? It can’t.
Because you don’t work in Washington, you don’t know this isn’t the objective here. The objective is rather: How can regulations ensure the decline of fossil energy like coal and expand the use of wind and solar power? Understand this is the goal and you more easily understand what’s happening in energy policy here.
Having now blocked construction of new coal plants, the EPA will next propose greenhouse gas controls to take down existing plants. These would be the plants that survived last year’s Utility MACT that reduces mercury and air toxic emissions. Last month, Georgia Power announced closures of four coal-fired plants, blaming tough emissions standards from EPA regulations like Utility MACT. “Poof” went 480 jobs and 15% of the utility’s grid capacity. Retirements of up to 70 gigawatts of existing coal capacity are anticipated thanks to abundant, low-price gas and punitive regulations like these.
Also being readied for prime time are the EPA’s controversial criteria for approving coal permits under the Clean Water Act. On this issue and on a rule expected for regulating coal ash, the NMA believes more regulatory responsibility must devolve to the states. It’s what Congress intended, what recent federal court decisions appear to support, and what the EPA continues to ignore.
Finally, the EPA will answer the burning question millions of you are asking every day: what exactly are “waters of the United States?” For the purpose of broadening its regulatory reach deeper into standing puddles and vernal pools, the EPA may propose a definition that goes far beyond the streams and wetlands Congress intended to regulate under federal jurisdiction.
Elsewhere, the Mine Safety and Health Administration is expected to issue new rules limiting respirable dust exposure to underground coal miners. Congress may also take up legislative changes in mine safety laws, even as last year American mines achieved the second safest record in their history.
This is what the New Year looks like when energy policy is outsourced to environmental agencies. Not pretty. The NMA will be busy.
Popovich is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, the industry’s trade group based in Washington, D.C.