By Ben Geman and Andrew Restuccia - 12/15/11 11:09 PM EST
State of Play: EPA is preparing to unveil long-awaited (and long-delayed) rules as soon as Friday that mandate cuts in mercury and other air toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants.
The heavily-lobbied rules are among the measures at the center of a political clash between Republicans who claim the Environmental Protection Agency is going overboard and a White House that caved on ozone rules but has pledged to hold the line on these protections.
Look for power companies (at least those with lots of coal-fired generation) and Republicans to warn of plant shutdowns, job losses and reduced reliability of the electric power system in some regions.
Environmentalists and many Democrats, in turn, reject what they call inaccurate industry doomsday predictions, and will instead emphasize the health benefits of the rules, which EPA says will cut mercury emissions by 91 percent and curb other toxics as well.
EPA says the rules will prevent up 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks and 120,000 asthma attacks annually.
Each side has ramped up their public advocacy and behind-the-scenes lobbying as they try and influence the final rules.
Representatives of power companies including coal giants American Electric Power and Southern Co. met again with the White House Office of Management and Budget Officials last week, submitting presentations that include warnings of plant closures and job losses. (Click here and here for OMB’s record of these meetings.)
Environmental and public health groups, who have had their own meetings with OMB to press for strong standards, are waging campaigns on the rules’ behalf — including a Thursday visit to Capitol Hill by former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis to advocate for clean-air rules.
A few things to watch when the rules surface in coming days ...
The White House: President Obama personally issued a lengthy statement in early September when the White House scuttled planned ozone rules. Will he weigh in directly to tout the mercury standards?
The White House, Part II: Environmentalists are on pins and needles waiting to see if Cass Sunstein — the OMB rules chief that greens don’t trust at all — will include provisions that soften the rules, such as a less stringent standard or compliance time beyond the 3-4 years the current plans provide.
The GOP field: Republican White House hopefuls have been calling EPA an economic pariah for months, and the rules could provide an opening for new attacks.
STAY TUNED ...
E2 will be following all of the action on efforts to extend the payroll tax credit and pass broad spending legislation.
Republicans on House Energy panel press NRC for documents
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are jumping head first into the fight over Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko’s leadership.
Top lawmakers on the committee sent a letter Thursday to Jaczko requesting all documents provided to Rep. Edward Markey (Mass.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.
Markey, a longtime critic of nuclear power, issued a report last week based on documents he received from the agency that blames the other four NRC commissioners for stymieing efforts to boost safety after Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi disaster.
Republicans have blasted the report, arguing its an effort by Markey to discredit the NRC commissioners, who have publicly criticized Jaczko’s leadership on the panel in recent days. Jaczko used to work for Markey.
NRC moves ahead with post-Fukushima recommendations
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Thursday that members agreed to move forward on a series of safety improvements identified in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
The commission approved and agreed to take action on a list of high-priority safety improvements identified by staff. The recommendations were included in a broader report unveiled earlier this year by a federal task force.
The decision marks an initial step toward implementing the safety improvements over the next five years. The improvements include ensuring that power plants can deal with sustained power outages, preparing staff and equipment for emergencies and tightening standards aimed at protecting plants from flooding and earthquakes.
NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said the move is “an important next step in responding to and implementing the safety recommendations of the Task Force.”
The decision comes at a rocky time for the NRC. Read more here.
Senate committee approves Majumdar nomination
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved Thursday morning the nomination of Arun Majumdar to be the under secretary of energy at the Energy Department.
Majumdar currently heads the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The program — which was first established in 2007 but didn’t receive funding until 2009 — invests in “out-of-the-box” energy technologies that are potentially risky but, if successful, could transform the country’s energy infrastructure.
President Obama nominated Majumdar to the position last month. If confirmed by the Senate, Majumdar would replace Cathy Zoi, who left the department in March.
Debate follows Romney’s climate attack
The last GOP presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses will happen Thursday night. It arrives a day after Mitt Romney sharpened his attacks on unexpected front-runner Newt Gingrich by trying to tether him to Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi on climate change.
E2 will be watching Thursday to see if Romney keeps up the attack, and for other climate and energy battles.
EPA readies ‘fracking’ guidance
EPA sent the White House Office of Management and Budget draft guidance Wednesday that spells out permitting plans for hydraulic fracturing operations that include diesel fuel injections.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act’s underground injection regulations under a 2005 law unless companies are injecting diesel.
EPA plans to release the guidance for permit-writers for public review early next year. The agency is taking pains to emphasize that it supports natural-gas production even as it moves along multiple fronts to improve environmental controls.
After broad outreach and input from a range of stakeholders, the EPA has developed a draft guidance outlining how the current UIC permitting requirements apply to oil and gas hydraulic fracturing injection wells using diesel fuels. The guidance will help permit writers ensure that these underground injection activities are conducted in a way that does not endanger underground sources of drinking water, consistent with the Safe Drinking Water Act as amended in 2005.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...
Here's a quick roundup of Thursday's E2 stories:
— Carney stops short of veto threat on Keystone pipeline
— Nuclear chief Jaczko says he's ‘mortified’ by staff allegations of verbal abuse
— Spending bill curbs EPA Alaskan air-quality role
— Sen. Boxer defends nuke chief Jaczko
— Spending bill cuts EPA funding, but most ‘riders’ left out
— GOP senator proposes separate vote on Keystone measure
— Jaczko goes nuclear, say underlings