By Zack Colman - 08/17/12 08:44 PM EDT
“The report confirms the committee’s repeated assertions that EPA’s power sector regulations will raise electricity prices and present serious localized reliability challenges for many coal-dependent parts of the country,” House Energy and Commerce Committee spokeswoman Charlotte Baker told The Hill on Friday. “We are seeing more and more coal plants retire as a result of EPA’s actions, but the administration has yet to account for how this reduced capacity will affect consumers and our ability to keep the lights on.”
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who had asked GAO to conduct the report, claimed it as a victory for EPA supporters on Thursday. The study reviewed two forthcoming regulations that Republicans oppose: the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. It also evaluated two EPA proposals.
The GAO report said between 2 and 12 percent of coal-fired electric capacity would come offline as a result of the rules. It said cheap natural gas might push power plant operators to voluntarily shutter expensive coal-fired plants.
Still, the report also echoed Republican and utility industry claims that meeting compliance deadlines would be difficult because the technology needed to clean up power plants is not widely available, a point that Baker emphasized.
“Utilities and local officials have warned the required compliance timelines are unachievable and will severely challenge electric reliability throughout the implementation process,” she said.
The report also said adhering to the rules would be tougher in coal-heavy states, most of which are located in the South. It noted electricity rates could rise as much as 13 percent, though over time fluctuations might be less than historical levels.
The idea of rising electricity rates did not sit well with Republican staff on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The price increase predictions are a testament to that committee’s opposition to the EPA rules, Katie Brown, a Republican spokeswoman with the committee, told The Hill on Friday.
"Like the Obama EPA, the report gives short shrift to the effect these unnecessarily burdensome rules will have on working Americans,” she said. “A 13 percent electricity rate hike is no small matter for those on fixed incomes or those who are struggling to create jobs. And what do the American people get in exchange? ‘Benefits’ that are either entirely fabricated or already being achieved by regulations already on the books.”