CONTRIBUTORS

Collins has another chance to lead on common-sense regulation

Posted June 18, 2012, at 4:42 p.m.

The EPA’s job is to protect the environment, not to, as one now-erstwhile bureaucrat at the agency recently put it, crucify American businesses. Yet the agency has adopted a pattern of extreme, over-the-top requirements with which it is impossible for well-intentioned businesses to comply. This undermines business confidence and hinders economic recovery.

No one has done more to try to make one such regulation, the EPA Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule, or MACT, more reasonable than Sen. Susan Collins, who recently got a bipartisan majority of the Senate to vote for her amendment to fix those rules. A filibuster thwarted her efforts.

Now, she’ll have a chance to vote on a sister rule that applies the same unreasonable standards to utility boilers. The Utility MACT vote, however, will be protected from filibuster and therefore stands a good chance of passage. Collins should again lead.

The Utility MACT rule doesn’t affect Maine as much as the Boiler MACT rule, but it certainly bears consideration. One study estimated that, as a result of this rule, the retail price of electricity in Maine would increase by approximately 5 percent. That’s not insignificant, especially for seniors and others on fixed incomes.

The effect on our national economy must also be considered. In many states electricity prices will spike 20 percent or more as a consequence of the rule, forcing businesses to lay off workers and downsize their operations. That’s likely to stall the already weak economic recovery.

The Utility MACT rule, like the Boiler MACT rule, has an unrealistically short timetable for compliance. Many power plants will require much longer than the rule provides to install the expensive equipment required, and the environmental benefits come mostly from reduced particulate matter, which is already separately regulated. According to EPA’s own estimates of the direct costs and benefits, the rule will impose $9.8 billion (with a “b”) in annual costs for just $6 million (with an “m”) in health benefits. That’s an astonishing 1,600-to-1 ratio of costs to benefits.

The Senate will vote Wednesday on S.J. Res 37, a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act that would send the Utility MACT rule back to the EPA. It is protected from filibuster by Senate rule, so it will pass if it receives as many votes as the Collins Amendment on Boiler MACT did.

While it’s true that the Congressional Review Act would bar the EPA from promulgating a “substantially similar” rule if S.J. Res 37 passed, the statutory authority under the Clean Air Act is broad enough for the EPA to return with a substantially different rule that more effectively addresses mercury emissions without all of the other costly requirements and logistical problems in the current Utility MACT rule.

Collins has been a leader on Boiler MACT and should, for similar reasons, join the fight to fix the Utility MACT rule. We urge her to support S.J. Res 37 and encourage other Republican moderates like Sens. Olympia Snowe and Scott Brown to do the same.

Phil Kerpen is president of American Commitment and author of “Democracy Denied.”

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