The PJ Tatler

EPA's Extreme Rulemaking Even Worries Other Agencies

From the WSJ today:

The Environmental Protection Agency claims that the critics of its campaign to remake U.S. electricity are partisans, but it turns out that they include other regulators and even some in the Obama Administration. In particular, a trove of documents uncovered by Congressional investigators reveals that these internal critics think the EPA is undermining the security and reliability of the U.S. electric power supply.

With its unprecedented wave of rules, the EPA is abusing traditional air-quality laws to force a large share of the coal-fired fleet to shut down. Amid these sacrifices on the anticarbon altar, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski and several House committees have been asking, well, what happens after as much as 8% of U.S. generating capacity is taken off the grid?

A special focus of their inquiry has been the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, which since 2005 has been charged with ensuring that the (compact florescent) lights stay on. That 8% figure comes from FERC itself in a confidential 2010 assessment of the EPA’s regulatory bender—or about 81 gigawatts that FERC’s Office of Electric Reliability estimated is “very likely” or “likely” to enter involuntary retirement over the next several years. FERC disclosed the estimate in August in response to Senator Murkowski’s questions, along with a slew of memos and emails.

FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, a Democrat, has since disavowed the study as nothing more than back-of-the-envelope scribblings that are now “irrelevant,” as he told a recent House hearing.

OK, but then could FERC come up with a relevant number? Since he made the study public, Mr. Wellinghoff has disowned responsibility for scrutinizing the EPA rules and now says that FERC will only protect electric reliability ex post facto once the rules are permanent, somehow.

This abdication is all the more striking because the documents show that EPA’s blandishments about reliability can’t be trusted. In its initial 2010 analysis—a rigorous document—FERC notes in a “next steps” section that the reliability office and industry must “assess the reliability and adequacy impacts of retirement of at risk units.” In part, this was because the office believed the EPA analyses to be deficient. One undated memo specifies multiple weaknesses in EPA reliability modelling.

The EPA answers to the president. If President Obama had a problem with any of rulemaking, he would stop it. Maine Sen. Susan Collins, not exactly a hard right firebrand, is calling for a regulatory time-out to let the economy get back on its feet. That’s a good start, but leaves open the possibility that we get the economy growing again, only to body slam it with a slew of extreme regulations anyway. I like Herman Cain’s idea quite a bit better.