EPA Disavows Mercury Rule Rationale
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to scrap its finding that regulating electric generating units under its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) is “appropriate and necessary.” It took that position in 2016 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the agency adopted the rule illegally four years earlier without properly considering costs of compliance.
In the 2012 rulemaking, the EPA said compliance would cost $9.8 billion annually—as much as 2,450 times the claimed $4 million to $6 million benefit from mercury reduction. The agency sought to justify the disparity by claiming annual “co-benefits” of $37 billion to $90 billion attributed mainly to reducing particulate emissions already covered by other regulations.
The American Public Power Association, Edison Electric Institute, and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association have urged retention of the existing MATS rule, citing $18 billion already spent and all affected plants now retired or compliant.
New PSC Chair Named
Governor Tony Evers announced he would nominate Milwaukee attorney Rebecca Cameron Valcq to fill a vacancy on the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) upon taking office last month.
Once confirmed by the state senate, Valcq will succeed Ellen Nowak chairing the three-member utility regulatory panel. Nowak, who returned to the PSC in November after a stint as secretary of the Department of Administration, previously chaired the commission between 2015 and last February. She is serving a term that runs until 2023, but appointment of the chair is the governor’s prerogative and the change of administration will also change who holds the chair.
Valcq has served 15 years as regulatory counsel to Milwaukee-based WE Energies and has represented the utility before the PSC and advised management on regulatory compliance.
Council Faults Security Planning
Business and government leaders evaluating infrastructure security advised the White House in December that the U.S. power grid’s vulnerability to cyberattack represents a “profound risk [that]requires a new national focus.”
The National Infrastructure Advisory Council said existing response plans “would be outmatched by a catastrophic power outage” with large parts of the nation lacking electricity for weeks or months, and cascading failures of water utilities, communications, fuel, health care, and financial services.
The report recommended greater “individual preparedness,” suggesting people keep sufficient essentials on hand to survive 14 days in their homes. It called for intensified planning by government and private sector entities to improve capabilities for recovering from a cyberattack or natural disaster such as a geomagnetic storm disabling portions of the grid.
New Transmission Line Energized
The Badger Coulee transmission line between the La Crosse area and Dane County was energized in December as part of the regional electric system, the American Transmission Company (ATC) announced.
The 345-kilovolt line will help ensure electric reliability and provide access to lower-cost power and renewable energy, ATC said, noting that along with other projects in a related portfolio, Badger-Coulee will help enable delivery of 25 gigawatts of renewable power.
The project is one of 17 designated as multi-value projects by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO). The regional grid overseer anticipates those projects delivering as much as $52.6 billion in net economic benefits over the next 20 to 40 years while enabling use of as much as 41 million megawatt hours of wind generation annually, ATC said.
Construction of the 180-mile, $580 million line started in 2016 following Public Service Commission approval in April 2015.
The project was developed jointly by ATC and Xcel Energy. Dairyland Power Cooperative, Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency – Wisconsin, and WPPI Energy are part-owners.
Regulators Endorse Revised Water Rule
The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) has voiced approval of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers joint proposal to rewrite the definition of “waters of the United States” regulated under the Clean Water Act.
NARUC President Nick Wagner issued a statement saying his organization had called for withdrawal of the 2015 version of the rule, asked for a “less expansive rule that respected state authority,” and asked for changes based on a cost-benefit analysis. The revised rule “responds to each of those concerns,” Wagner said.
An earlier NARUC resolution said the 2015 version of the “waters” rule would obstruct power providers “implementing necessary infrastructure improvements” and cited a Government Accountability Office finding that the EPA violated anti-lobbying provisions of federal law by using social media to suppress criticism of its 2015 rulemaking.
Electric cooperatives objected to the 2015 rule over concerns that it would regulate vast areas of dry land as “waters of the United States” and could require federal permitting for routine maintenance over ditches where water may flow intermittently. A 2015 analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation found that under the then-current version of the rule, 92 percent (32.9 million out of 35.9 million acres) of Wisconsin’s entire landmass could be brought under federal regulation as “waters of the United States.”
Inconsistent rulings by various federal judges prevented enforcement of the rule in about half the states, while allowing its implementation in the remaining half.