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Clean Air Act 111(d) – Machete Required

By September 2, 2014November 7th, 2021Energy Efficiency, Energy Rant

Have you ever dreamt that you were tied down or in some way stuck and couldn’t move? Couldn’t get traction on foot or in a car?  Extremely tired?  Hordes of clueless people in your way?  Have you ever plowed through a marsh in waders or snow up to your waste?  If so, welcome to the sensation of getting to the bottom of EPA’s Clean Air Act 111(d) rule – the one in which it has declared jurisdiction over states carbon dioxide emissions.  An investigator  needs a machete, a bulldozer, snowplow, or explosives to get to the bottom of the muck.

Before I get to the findings of my investigation, allow me to describe hype-strategy about power plant pollution.  This photo, courtesy of this website, is a typical depiction of a conventional, fossil-fuel fired steam power plant.  It looks gray, polluting, and hideous, doesn’t it?  What you see is all suspended water droplets, folks – i.e., fog.  That big concrete test tube / beaker looking thing in the middle, with additional ones in the background, is a natural-convection cooling tower with nothing but water flowing through it.  The stacks on the right are exhaust from the combustion process.  The only thing visible again is water droplets.  Everything else is invisible.  Furthermore, you can see the blue sky at the top of the photo.

This photo seems to be altered to filter out sunshine and to make the tower look like a sooty tailpipe, when there is no soot at all.  Speaking of altered, why are all those homes plopped in front?  What kind of urban planning is that?

So, 111(d).  One of the problems with society and bureaucrats is they ignore and/or skip the law.  We have separation of powers in this country.  Congress makes the laws.  The administrative branch has veto power and is supposed to enforce the laws, and the courts are supposed to referee battles over what the law means.  And I say, “mean” not, “intend”.  Intent doesn’t matter when interpreting law in my opinion – and in the opinions of many attorneys and judges.  However, intent causes problems when applying the law, and I’ll get to that below.  So, I wanted to actually read what 111(d) says, but don’t plan on finding that on EPA’s website.

The Washington Post wrote this article entitled Everything you need to know about the EPA’s proposed rules on coal plants.  That may provide what the Washington Post wants all its readers to know, but it doesn’t provide me with what I need to know.  Why target power plants, they say?  Because they account for 38% of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions and the average age of the nation’s coal fleet is 42 years.  They forgot to mention that the vast majority use the Rankine power plant cycle.  I.e., who cares?  What do these things have to do with making arbitrary regulation out of a long standing law?

Back to that “intent” issue.  The Clean Air Act was never intended to control carbon dioxide emissions.  But Jeff, you’re being a hypocrite!  No, I am not because in this case, the intent was to limit nefarious emissions that cause acid rain, ground-level ozone and particulates.  The threshold for these real pollutants is much smaller than CO2 emissions; i.e., 250 tons per year versus the EPA’s freshly hatched 100,000 tons per year for carbon dioxide.  See where this is going?  If the Clean Air Act is meant to regulate 250 tons of CO2 emissions per year, it would affect stationary sources including medium-size school buildings, hospitals, grocery stores, and office buildings.  For example, 100,000 therms of natural gas, which could represent the annual heating fuel consumption for a modest high school in the upper Midwest, would have to be regulated under the law.

This is the problem for the EPA, and proponents of carbon emissions controls, at least using the Clean Air Act as the vehicle.  So, the EPA not so arbitrarily chose 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide as a cap to hook power plants, by using what is known as the “tailoring rule” – i.e., “rewrite it to fit your desires” rule.  In this case, the desire is to regulate the 40% or so of GHGs emitted by power plants.  The other 60%?  Fuggedaboutit.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.  However, on June 23 of this year, it also struck down this “tailoring rule”.  The court states if the EPA’s rule were allowed to stand that it would “radically transform [the clean air act] and render [it] unworkable as written.”  It would also lead to “an enormous and transformative expansion in EPA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.”  Congress writes the laws.

Finally, the Supremes state, “When an agency claims to discover in a long-extant statute an unheralded power to regulate ‘a significant portion of the American economy’… we typically greet its announcement with a measure of skepticism.”  In other words, when the agency suddenly seeks to hammer a square regulation into a round 40-plus year-old law, the alarm bells go off.

Jeff, you’re just anti-anti-carbon.  No.  Bad law has zero bipartisan support.  Badder law (sic) is generated by unelected bureaucrats under cover of existing law.  The result is court battles that may extend for years – and they’ve already started.  How are states and utilities supposed to plan their resources in such an unknown regulatory environment?  How do companies respond to uncertain regulation and energy prices?  Trepidation.  Freeze.  Wait.  See what happens.  This is bad for the economy, utilities, and the energy efficiency industry.

To read more, this article by Fierce Energy is good.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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