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Battle Lines: 2011 Law and Lawyers Report

Generators fight back against EPA’s new regulations

Fortnightly Magazine - November 2011

reliability effects of curtailing generation on that scale. “Many of these plants provide voltage support,” Akins says. “We’re not against the EPA regulations or the targets, but the timetable is unrealistic. We’re taking a real-world view on what needs to happen and what it will cost. And we’ve taken heat for that.”

Specifically, AEP developed a discussion draft of legislation in the spring of 2011 that it distributed to certain members of the House of Representatives. The legislation proposed giving plant owners the option to put individual facilities on an alternative timeline for compliance, with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2020. “It became public that we were working on that legislation, and it raised the eyebrows of the environmental community,” Akins says. “That’s what started the firestorm of activity.”

In May 2011, a group of environmental organizations banded together to create a campaign to publicize what AEP was trying to do. “AEP’s bill was the first time we saw a piece of legislation with a single utility’s fingerprints on it proposing sweeping roll-backs of the Clean Air Act ,” says Mark MacLeod, Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) director for special projects in its climate and air program, and formerly a staff member at the Public Utility Commission of Texas. “That’s why AEP became the choice for the ‘What’s Your Number?’ campaign.”

In the campaign, EDF asked AEP to define the number of lives Congress should sacrifice to give the company and other polluters “delays and rollbacks” of environmental regulations. Citing EPA figures, the advocates say AEP’s proposed legislation would allow emissions of toxic pollution associated with as many as 34,000 deaths, plus 220,000 asthma attacks, and 1.5 million missed days of work due to sickness. The campaign involved various efforts, such as a billboard across the street from AEP’s headquarters, yard signs posted in neighborhoods where AEP executives live, and TV ad placements showing a little girl apparently suffering from respiratory distress.

“The goals of the campaign are simple—to hold AEP accountable for pushing legislation that would roll back Clean Air Act rules, and to make sure people understand that these rules have a positive impact on people’s lives,” MacLeod says. “They aren’t just bureaucratic functions. Every year the EPA rules are delayed, lives will be lost because they’re not protected by the rules.”

For AEP’s part, Akins argues that EPA’s health-impact numbers are dubious, and they ignore the progress that companies like AEP have made to reduce emissions. “It’s amazing that we’re having this argument, because we’ve already achieved 80 percent of what the rules require,” he says. “There’s a law of diminishing returns, and you have to weigh economics in the balance. If the cumulative result of these rules is the loss of more than a million jobs, that’s families with no jobs, and that has a health impact as well.” Akins refers to a NERA Economic Consulting report commissioned by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which estimates that EPA’s new regulations will result in a net loss of 1.65 million job-years from 2012 through 2020.

“We aren’t trying