State asks EPA to reconsider new rule

Left unchanged, a federal air pollution reduction rule announced in July could lead to rolling blackouts in Louisiana next summer, state and energy company officials say.

In addition, state officials say they don’t believe Louisiana should even be included in the rule.

The Cross State Air Pollution Rule addresses air pollution that creeps over state lines, with a focus on power plants.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Oct. 6 announced proposed revisions to the rule. Nevertheless, Paul Miller, special assistant to the secretary at the state Department of Environmental Quality, said that while the proposed revisions give the state and power companies some breathing room, the revisions don’t solve all the problems the state has with the rule.

The original rule sets an allowance of pollution that can be released from each facility. If a facility releases more than that, the plant would either need to install more pollution controls or buy credits from other facilities.

It’s uncertain, however, whether those credits would be available, Miller said, adding that the 27 states affected by the rule would have had to get these changes in place in a matter of months. And that, he said, was going to be impossible.

“The deadline itself drove the crisis,” Miller said.

If there aren’t enough credits or if the timeline for installing pollution controls is too short, power plants could go outside the state and purchase excess power.

Surrounding states, however, don’t have the extra power to spare, so Louisiana would have had to go farther to find the power, Miller said.

Chuck Barlow, associate general council for Entergy Services, said the rule put in place earlier this year had allocations that were much lower than had been expected. In addition, EPA moved up the deadline to allow interstate trade of allowances. Initially, facilities would have had until 2014 to purchase allowances from other states freely, Barlow said.

However, that deadline meant there would be more restrictions in trading across state lines, making it unlikely to help in meeting the emissions goals, said Andrew Owens, director of regulatory affairs with Entergy Louisiana.

“You were precluded from using trading as a strategy to comply,” Owens said. “The problem was that everyone was essentially short (of allowances).”

As far as the proposed revisions, Barlow said, the company is still working out exactly how much it could help.

He noted there’s no guarantee EPA will adopt the proposed revisions.

David Knox, spokesman for NRG Energy, said they were surprised at the reduced amount of pollution allowed in the final rule, “but felt the EPA’s proposed revisions are a step in the right direction.”

He said that based on investments already made at the power units they operated in Louisiana and the revised pollution allowances, “these allocations will still be difficult to achieve, but we will comply with the rule and continue to supply our co-op customers with low-cost, reliable power.”

Miller said another concern with the current rule — without the revisions — is there’s no guarantee there would be space in transmission lines to get the power to Louisiana if it were found, he said.

“There’s not sufficient capacity in the country to send power from state to state,” Miller said.

EPA disagrees.

“Louisiana is in power regions with some of the healthiest reserve margins in the nation and sits next to several power regions where it can continue to trade electricity as needed,” said Enesta Jones, an official with the EPA press office in Washington, D.C.

On Oct. 6, the state announced it formally asked EPA to evaluate the process it used to adopt the rule.

Miller said the state feels that industries have enacted a lot of reductions in ozone-causing nitrogen oxides.

“We felt like we really shouldn’t have been (included) in the rule in the first place,” Miller said.

Air pollution rule revisions

The proposed revisions to the Cross State Air Pollution Rule would allow for additional tons of pollution to be released. In addition, the revisions proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency extend the time period before penalties begin for releasing more pollution than allowed. The penalty period would start Jan. 1, 2014, instead of January 2012.

Other revisions include:

• Limiting emissions of nitrogen oxide — which can help lead to ozone pollution — for Louisiana at 17,663 tons per year, but a penalty wouldn’t be imposed until the amount went over 21,372 tons per year. Every ton between those two amounts would require facilities to purchase credits from other facilities.

• Once the penalty period begins, every ton of nitrogen oxides released over the 21,372-tons-per-year limit would result in the removal of two credit allowances from the facility.

The state is close to limiting nitrogen oxides to the 21,372-ton annual cap, said Paul Miller, special assistant to the secretary at the state Department of Environmental Quality, noting that the state got those emissions down to 22,860 tons in 2010.