'National Security' Coal Bailout Collapses

by Daniel Farber | October 17, 2018

Cross-posted from LegalPlanet.

In its desperate effort to save the failing American coal industry, the Trump administration promised to use emergency powers to keep coal-fired power plants in operation even though they're not economically viable. That would have been the kind of disruptive change that Trump promised to bring to Washington. But the effort seems to have gone aground, according to Politico. This outcome tells us something about the gap between Trump's promises of committing regulatory mayhem and the realities of modern governance.

The Trump plan, which originated with a coal industry magnate and major Trump donor, would have required an extraordinary stretch of the statutes in question. The plan was to use one or more of a trio of emergency provisions. The first is a section of the Federal Power Act that authorizes the Department of Energy to order generators to run during wars or other emergencies, including grid emergencies. Both DOE precedent and a D.C. Circuit case say this doesn't apply to fuel supply issues. The second statute, which traces back to the Korean War, allows the president to prioritize performance of defense contracts over civilian contracts and allocate materials, services, and facilities to promote the national defense. But it doesn't seem to provide authority to force companies to buy these items. It also contains loan and subsidy provisions, but they seem to be limited to $50 million in any one year. The final statute, ...

A Loss for Trump -- and for Coal

by Daniel Farber | August 23, 2018
Cross-posted from LegalPlanet. Understandably, most of the attention at the beginning of the week was devoted to the rollout of the Trump administration's token effort to regulate greenhouse gases, the ACE rule. But something else happened, too. On Tuesday, a D.C. Circuit ruling ignored objections from the Trump administration and invalidated key parts of a rule dealing with coal ash disposal. That rule had originally come from the Obama administration, and the court agreed with environmentalists that it was too weak. ...

Trump's War on Progressive, Competitive Energy Markets

by Hannah Wiseman | June 13, 2018
It is widely recognized that President Trump has pushed an aggressive anti-regulatory agenda on the environmental front, but this agenda often hides a second, anti-free-market battle waged in the energy context. For decades, Congress and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have worked to move the country toward competitive markets in the sale of wholesale energy – energy that generators sell to utilities, or which utilities sell to each other, and then to retail customers. Congress and FERC believed that ...

Coal and Nuclear Plant Bailout Would Be Unjustified Use of DOE's Emergency Authority

by Joel Eisen | March 30, 2018
It's no secret that the Trump administration and coal companies have drawn a bullseye on reversing coal's declining fortunes in wholesale electricity markets, where competition and inexpensive natural gas have driven coal's market share down from 50 percent in 1990 to about 30 percent today. Feeling bullish about their prospects in a sympathetic administration, owners of coal and nuclear plants have tried to extract subsidies to prevent what they view as premature retirements of large power plants.  This January, the ...

Slowly and Grudgingly, Change Is Coming to Coal Country

by Daniel Farber | May 30, 2017
A sign of the times: Fox News has reported, without comment, that the Kentucky Coal Museum is installing solar panels to save money. This is part of a larger trend. On Saturday, the New York Times reported on shifts in power production in states like West Virginia and Kentucky. For instance, Appalachian Power has “closed three coal-fired plants and converted two others to gas, reducing its dependence on coal to 61 percent last year, down from 74 percent in 2012.” In response to an ...

How Does the Clean Power Plan Measure Up?

by Robert Verchick | August 03, 2015
  Against intense pressure from the coal industry to tie Americans to dirty fuels forever, the Obama administration has surged forward in the battle to fight climate change. The Clean Power Plan rule, released today by the EPA, promises serious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, while giving states the flexibility and incentives they need to reduce pollution, keep the grid humming, and save consumers money. The challenge, as EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy put it, was “wicked hard.”  But polls show Americans ...

EPA Sends Coal Ash Rule to OIRA

by Rena Steinzor | October 28, 2014
After ringing its hands for nigh on four years, EPA has at last coughed up a final coal ash rule.  Of course, no one but the White House staff will know what it says until the White House releases it in absolutely final form.  Nevertheless, the staff will now engage in the charade of hosting multiple appearances by various interest groups that want to tell the President’s people about those concerns without really knowing what they should be talking about. ...

Power Plant Regulation and the Rhetoric of Reliability

by Emily Hammond | March 15, 2013
The coal-fired power plant industry has always fought air-emissions standards enacted pursuant to the Clean Air Act (CAA).  But the industry has increasingly raised the specter of reliability problems, arguing that EPA’s recent “tsunami” of regulations will cause a “train wreck,” forcing companies to retire aging plants so rapidly that lost capacity will outpace the development of new sources.  The result, they maintain, will be such an unmanageable strain on the regional grids that they will have to impose brownouts ...

House Votes to Give Coal Ash Dumps a Free Pass; President Stops Short of Veto Threat

by Rena Steinzor | October 17, 2011
The residents of Kingston, Tennessee had no inkling that the Christmas of 2008 would be any different than another year. In the wee morning hours three days before the holiday, an earthen dam holding back a 40-acre surface impoundment at a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) power plant burst, releasing 1 billion gallons of inky coal ash sludge across Kingston, Tennessee. The sludge flood crossed a river, destroying 26 houses. One had a man inside, and was lifted off its foundation and ...

The Delays Get Delayier: The Sad First Year of EPA's Coal Ash Proposal

by James Goodwin | May 04, 2011
Before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, before the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and before the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, there was the TVA coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee. It was at Kingston, during the early morning hours on December 22, 2008, that an earthen dam holding back a 40-acre surface impoundment burst, releasing one billion gallons of inky sludge. The Kingston coal ash spill taught the American public about the catastrophic costs that can accompany so ...

Two Years After Tennessee Disaster, U.S. Effort to Prevent the Next Coal Ash Catastrophe Faces Uncertain Future

by Ben Somberg | December 23, 2010
Two years ago this week, an earthen wall holding back a giant coal ash impoundment failed in Kingston, Tennessee, sending more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry over nearby land and into the Emory River. The ash had chemicals including arsenic, lead, and mercury. Clean up costs could be as much as $1.2 billion. The coal ash issue is not "new" -- toxic chemicals from unlined coal ash pits have been leaching into the ground for a long ...

Coal Ash Comments Submitted: Get Serious, Please

by Ben Somberg | November 19, 2010
"In order for CBA [cost benefit analysis] to be workable, regulators need to have a relatively restricted range of possibilities." That's what OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein wrote in a 2007 book. So how about from $82 billion to negative $251 billion, a third of a trillion dollars – is that a relatively restricted range? Those are the estimated net benefit figures, over 50 years, in the Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) for EPA's "strong" coal ash regulation proposal. Do those numbers ...

MSHA Issues Emergency Rule to Prevent Coal Dust Explosions

by Celeste Monforton | September 22, 2010
Cross posted from The Pump Handle. MSHA announced Tuesday that it will be issuing on September 23 an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to improve a practice to prevent coal dust explosions. The rule addresses "rock dusting"--the decades old practice of generously applying pulverized limestone dust throughout a coal mine to dilute the potential power of a coal dust explosion. As NIOSH's Man and Teacoach explain: "...the rock dust disperses, mixes with the coal dust and prevents flame propagation by acting ...

At Coal Ash Hearing, Poisoned Waters and the "Stigma Effect" on the Agenda

by Rena Steinzor | August 30, 2010
The below is testimony (PDF) given today by CPR President Rena Steinzor at the EPA's public hearing on coal ash regulation. The hearing, in Arlington, VA, is the first of seven; the public comment period has been extended to November 19. See CPR on Twitter for updates from the hearing. We are all familiar with the psychological studies that have become a cottage industry at American universities. Consider this one. A presumably dead cockroach is “medically sterilized”—and I honestly do not know ...

OIRA's Fuzzy Math on Coal Ash: A Billion Here, a Billion There

by Rena Steinzor | July 13, 2010
This post was written by CPR President Rena Steinzor and Michael Patoka, a student at the University of Maryland School of Law and research assistant to Steinzor. Last October, the EPA proposed to regulate, for the first time, the toxic coal ash that sits in massive landfills and ponds next to coal-fired power plants across the nation. The 140 million tons of ash generated every year threaten to contaminate groundwater and cause catastrophic spills, like the 1-billion-gallon release that devastated ...

Eye on OIRA: No Room for a More Compassionate CBA in EPA's Coal Ash Rule

by James Goodwin | May 24, 2010
“Although the 1976 RCRA [Resource Conservation and Recovery Act] statute does not require benefit-cost justification of RCRA regulations, this RIA [regulatory impact analysis] presents a qualitative benefit analysis for compliance with OMB’s 2003 ‘Circular A-4: Regulatory Analysis’ best practices guidance.” This statement comes from the executive summary to the cost-benefit analysis (CBA) that EPA sent to OIRA last October with its original proposed rule for regulating coal ash waste, and it is without a doubt the most important sentence in the ...

Coal Ash Announcement Now Scheduled for May?

by Ben Somberg | May 03, 2010
The EPA had projected an April announcement on the next step in regulating coal ash. But April came and went. The EPA now lists "05/2010" as the projected time for publication of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register. ...

Eye on OIRA: Is EPA About To Take a U-Turn on Coal Ash?

by James Goodwin | April 20, 2010
For the past 6 months, OIRA has hosted an all-out assault on EPA’s proposed coal ash waste rule, as a parade of representatives from King Coal and the coal ash reuse industry have walked in to attack any and every aspect of the hybrid approach the agency reportedly proposed. (Under the hybrid approach, EPA would regulate coal ash waste as a “hazardous” substance, unless it was dedicated to certain forms of beneficial use, in which case it would be regulated ...

Two Years and Counting: Looking Forward

Farber | Dec 10, 2018 | Environmental Policy

Two Years and Counting: A Historical Perspective

Farber | Dec 06, 2018 | Environmental Policy

Two Years and Counting: Trump at Mid-Term

Farber | Dec 03, 2018 | Environmental Policy

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