As Grist readers know, EPA recently released its proposed Air Toxics Rule, which would regulate the emission of mercury and other brain-warping, lung-destroying nasties. We’re still in the public comment period, so the PR battle is in full swing.
Republicans and dirty utilities have raised Cain over the rule, screeching that it will be too expensive and cause blackouts and raise prices and anyway we don’t have the technology to do this! Oh, the vapors.
Most of these objections are unfounded. See, for instance, this post on the reliability canard and this post on the technology canard. One thing the right has done extremely effectively, though, is to frame this as yet another battle of EPA vs. Industry, which is comfortable ground for them. So it’s nice to see some companies pushing back.
A coalition of electric power companies — including some of the nation’s largest, representing 170,000 MW of generating capacity, 110,000 of it fossil fuel-based — released a letter [PDF] today supporting the toxics rule. They say, “we expect compliance with the rule will promote economic growth, innovation, competitiveness, and job creation, all without compromising the reliability of our electric system.”
This bit from the letter makes a crucial point:
Since 2000, the electric industry has been anticipating that EPA would regulate hazardous air pollutant emissions, and as a result, many companies have already taken steps to install control technologies that will allow them to comply with requirements of the rule on time. The technologies to control emissions at coal-fired power plants, including mercury and hydrochloric acid, are available and cost-effective. However, if additional time is needed to install control technologies, EPA has the authority to authorize a plant up to one additional year to comply.
This is one of the undercovered aspects of this debate: This rule is not being sprung on industry. It’s been in the works for over a decade. Lots of smart, forward-looking utilities have made investments in anticipation and are now well-positioned to comply with the rule.
Then there’s another set of utilities — hide-bound, backward-looking, usually regulated monopolies for whom competition and innovation are alien concepts — that has done nothing but fight EPA rules and delay those investments. They have relied on their patrons in Congress (and for many years, the Bush administration) to protect them.
Now the jig is up. Naturally, they’re squawking. But let’s be clear: It’s not “industry” that opposes EPA here. It’s a specific set of dirty utilities and their representatives in the Republican Party. They don’t deserve the status of industry spokesmen that the media has allowed them to claim. And they don’t deserve the right to delay crucial public health protections for the rest of us.