AIR POLLUTION:

Health groups make hay over utility regulators' EPA resolution

During a meeting next week, an influential group of electricity regulators will decide whether to take a position on the idea of letting older power plants wait an extra few years to retire, rather than following new pollution rules from U.S. EPA.

Public health groups such as the American Lung Association aren't happy about the resolution that will be considered by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) during its annual summer meeting. Perhaps worried that support from utility regulators could give the idea momentum on Capitol Hill, they fired off a letter yesterday urging the group to shoot down the proposal.

The letter says that tens of thousands of people would die early, and many more would become sick, for every year that coal plants are spared from new rules on soot, smog and toxic emissions.

"It is time for these plants to get clean and for public health gains to be realized," the groups wrote.

The resolution was put forward by Jon McKinney, a member of the West Virginia Public Service Commission. It urges Congress to enact legislation that would require EPA to write regulations that would, among other things, give power plants an "off ramp" from the new rules if the owner agrees to shut the plant down or switch to a new fuel by 2020.

McKinney's resolution says that if power companies are not given more time and options, they will have to raise electricity rates more than necessary and could make it hard to maintain the reliability of the grid.

It is similar to a bill being circulated on Capitol Hill by American Electric Power Co. Inc., which burns more coal than any other U.S. power company and has several power plants in West Virginia. The bill has yet to find sponsors in the Senate (E&E Daily, June 17).

The company has said that three of its West Virginia plants in the state will need to shut down by 2014 because of the new environmental rules, when they were previously slated to be closed between 2017 and 2020. All three are more than 50 years old.

A spokesman for NARUC declined to comment on the resolution. He said in an email that it will be considered by various committees and brought to a vote before the group's full board when it meets Wednesday in Los Angeles.

Click here to read the resolution.

Click here to read the letter.

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