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Environment & Energy

DEP Urges EPA To Change Clean Air Act

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has proposed what it believes to be a “win-win” situation for the environment and existing power plants.

The DEP has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking for more state flexibility when it comes to carbon dioxide emission standards for existing fossil fuel-fired power plants in competitive energy markets and a change in how pollutants are measured.

The DEP wants to make some changes to the New Source Review (NSR) provisions under the Clean Air Act.

The NSR is a preconstruction permitting program that ensures new factories or power plants will be as clean as possible and will not significantly degrade air quality. Within the NSR is something called the applicability test, which measures air pollutants on a tons per year basis.

Vince Brisini, deputy secretary for the Office of Waste, Air, Radiation and Remediation for the DEP,  said the test hinders the progress of most efficient power plants.

He said the most efficient plants operate more, causing its tons per year numbers to rise above what he calls the “New Source Review threshold.” When plants exceed these standards, they’re hit with more constrictive regulations, forcing them to operate at less than full potential.

The DEP believes the applicability test should be measured on a pounds per megawatt hour basis. This would give a more accurate look at the amount of pollution produced per power generated, as opposed to pollution produced over time.

Brisini said this would lead to lower carbon dioxide emissions, a stronger, more competitive energy market, and possibly lower costs for customers.

“For it to be an energy efficiency project, every pollutant has to be reduced on a pounds per megawatt hour basis,” he said. “That is the key to opening the floodgates of people installing energy efficiency programs.”

The DEP also wants EPA guidelines to be written under section 111 (d) of the Clean Air Act, which grants states the authority to create its own energy efficiency standards and programs. This would allow states to implement regulations tailored to its specific economic or environmental needs.

Brisini said states with competitive energy markets, such as Pennsylvania, need special consideration by the EPA.

“If folks are rate-based utilities, they are simply told, ‘you take an action and we approve the cost and you will get cost recovery, plus a return on investment,’” he said. “That’s very different in a competitive energy state because they are simply another competitive company.”

As part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the EPA is developing carbon dioxide pollution standards for new and existing power plants. In January, the EPA released its proposed standards for new plants, and is expected to unveil its proposal for existing power plants in June, with the final decision coming in June 2015.

Christina Simeone, director of the PennFuture Energy Center, said the states should be flexible, but it’s up to the EPA to determine how much.

“That flexibility has to be consistent with the broader requirements of the Clean Air Act,” she said, “and that’s where EPA has to determine the level of flexibility that can be provided to the states.”