EPA’s Utility MACT Rule Threatens Electric Reliability and Economy in Arkansas

June 14, 2012

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently published the most expensive regulation in U.S. history. By the agency’s own estimates, this so-called Utility MACT rule will cost $11 billion per year to implement. Intended to reduce mercury emissions at our nation’s power plants, the rule simply goes too far—causing power plants to close and our energy prices to rise, all to the detriment of the Arkansas economy.

Combined with a cluster of similar EPA regulations, the Utility MACT rule will require folks in Arkansas to tighten their belts and cut back on their electricity use at home. One recent study estimates that this regulation will cause Arkansans to pay as much as 23 percent more for their electricity. Families and businesses in our state get 46 percent of their electricity from coal-fired plants, so each and every one of us will be hit hard when these regulations go into effect and cause electricity prices to soar.

With an unemployment rate exceeding 7 percent Arkansas is still in economic recovery mode, and we can’t afford policies that would result in further job losses and higher energy prices. The study also estimates that the EPA’s new regulations will destroy hundreds of jobs in the Arkansas power sector alone as coal plants are shuttered. Higher energy prices will force businesses in all industries to shed jobs as well; nationwide the new rule could destroy a total of 1.4 million jobs, exactly the opposite of what our state and our country needs right now.

Plant closures also threaten electric reliability. The new standards are so impossibly high that even brand new coal plants employing the best new technology cannot meet them. In other words, coal plants would be history. In Arkansas the rule’s excessive compliance costs are expected to force over 2,000 megawatts in electrical capacity off the grid—enough energy to power more than 1.6 million homes.

Even worse: these incredible costs are all imposed in the name of EPA science that is questionable at best. To justify the supposed health benefits of reducing mercury from power plants, EPA relies on studies of pregnant subsistence fisherwomen in the Faroe Islands who consume a diet consisting almost entirely of high-mercury whale meat—nothing at all like your typical family in the Natural State. Additionally, U.S. coal-burning power plants emit only about 0.5% of the total worldwide mercury; the rest largely comes from natural sources like volcanoes and forest fires. All of the EPA-calculated benefits, in reality, come from the unrelated co-benefits of reducing emissions of fine particles that the EPA already tightly regulates under other burdensome rules.

Fortunately, Congress still has an opportunity to stop this regulatory train wreck. In February, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced a resolution to overturn the rule (S.J.Res. 37). If it is passed by Congress and signed by President Obama, the EPA’s new rule will be voided.

Arkansas Senator John Boozman already announced he will join efforts to defeat the EPA’s Utility MACT, rightly calling it “junk science.” And while our other senator, Mark Pryor, has co-sponsored bills in the past to limit and delay EPA rules, he hasn’t signed onto Sen. Inhofe’s bill yet. Arkansas families and businesses should hope that he does, and AFP’s more than 62,000 Arkansas activists will join the rest of the state in watching this vote very closely.

Teresa Oelke is the Arkansas state director for Americans for Prosperity

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