Energy & Environment

Businesses flock to White House in bid to shape power plant regs

Energy companies and industry groups are flocking to the White House in a last-ditch effort to convince the Obama administration to change its forthcoming carbon emission regulations for existing power plants.

Regulators and White House officials have hosted at least eight meetings with groups in the last three weeks, ahead of an expected August release of rules at the centerpiece of the president’s climate change agenda. 

{mosads}Companies ranging from electricity giant Duke Energy to manufacturer Honeywell have met with White House and Environmental Protection Agency  officials to encourage changes to the sweeping rule as it enters the final review stage before publication.

Some of the groups meeting with the White House said they used their audience with top officials to reiterate their long-standing concerns about the controversial rule, including its impact on the coal sector and energy reliability.

“The point we left with them was that in the Clean Power Plan, EPA is offering governors a basket of rotting carp,” said Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association, which sent executives to the White House on June 23.

Other business groups, however, raised more nuanced issues in hopes of carving out concessions they believe would benefit them the most.

At issue are the administration’s landmark regulations designed to cut power plant carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, setting state reduction targets and outlining ways to meet those goals.

Opponents of the rule, such as Popovich’s group, warn that it would lead to higher energy costs for consumers and set emission reduction targets too high for states to meet.

“The agency wants governors to transform their state’s power grid with a plan based on wholly implausible assumptions and underestimated costs to their states,” he said. “Caveat emptor was never better advice than in this instance.”

Utility interests including Duke, the Edison Electric Institute and American Electric Power met with administration officials in mid-June. American Electric Power spokeswoman Tammy Ridout said the company’s representative raised concerns over the plan’s emission targets and timelines and its impact on grid reliability.

“Cutting greenhouse gas emissions will require significant changes in the way our country produces, delivers and uses energy,” Ridout said. “The proposed rule is too prescriptive and the timeline is unrealistic.”

Many of the groups’ remarks at the meetings echoed criticisms of the rule hurled when it was first made available for public comment last year. The Edison Electric Institute, for example, said then that the EPA should look to write a rule that “ensure[s] that the emission rate goals can be achieved without compromising the reliability and affordability of electricity.” 

Other groups went in with specific requests for tweaks to the rule. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), in its meeting with manufactures and engineering companies like Honeywell and Siemens, asked officials to specifically mention in the final rule that states could use “third-party delivered energy efficiency” to meet their greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Energy efficiency improvements are one of the four main ways states can meet those goals, but the rule doesn’t explicitly say they can count efficiency improvements from industrial plants. NEMA government affairs director Joseph Eaves said the EPA should at least mention that as an option for states.

“Our ask was really simple: we asked them to call out third-party delivered energy efficiency as a compliance measure,” he said. “We suggest states should encourage those projects and measure and verify those savings and use it as a way to comply with the rule.” 

Similarly, the Canadian Electricity Association (CEA) asked officials to give states the option to count hydropower they import from Canada toward their emission targets. The CEA combed through public comments from industry groups, utilities and states and presented officials with all those suggesting hydropower as a potential compliance option.

“We want it to be abundantly clear that those affected utilities are indeed permitted and encouraged, if I can say that, to look north if that’s a part of their solution and it’s part of their mix,” said Sergio Marchi, CEA president and CEO, who was not at the meeting.

Even after their meetings, groups said they don’t know which way the Obama administration will go on the final rule, which now awaits review at the White House. It’s scheduled to be released publicly in August.

At his meeting, Eaves said groups and companies were given half an hour to make their points, and that it was mostly a “listening session” for the regulators, who asked few if any questions. Marchi, too, said he respects “that the officials have to wear their poker faces, and we’ll await their final word.” 

“I wouldn’t say they tipped their hands at all,” Eaves said. “We’re hopeful, but because we’re in Washington, D.C., you’re not completely sure until you see something in writing, and even then you still don’t know.”

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