Sen. Murkowski: Reliability Concerns Warrant Careful Review of Utility MACT Rule

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today commented on the Environmental Protection Agency’s release of the final National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants from Coal- and Oil-Fired Electric Utility Steam Generating Units, or Utility MACT.

Murkowski has expressed concern with the rule due to its potentially significant implications for electric grid reliability. Murkowski has urged a greater role for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and expert organizations under its regulation, such as the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).

“Based on the analysis we’ve seen so far – and the information that EPA either would not or could not provide – I continue to be concerned about the potential threat this rule poses to the reliability of the nation’s electric grid,” Murkowski said. “Now that the rule has been released, I will be reviewing it closely with my staff and, when Congress returns in January, will continue to consider the need for legislation.”

Over the past seven months, Murkowski and several of her Senate colleagues have sought to ensure that reliability received even a portion of the attention that EPA and FERC said, more than a year ago, they were already giving it. At that time FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff maintained that the two agencies had formed a joint task force to examine the reliability issue. However, no such task force was ever established. 

Instead of taking the questions and concerns seriously, the EPA has largely ignored requests for the agency to work closely with FERC and reliability experts to identify potential reliability risks and then amend the rules to lessen those risks. Indeed, in recently released internal e-mails, a FERC employee expressed frustration with trying to work with EPA, noting that “I don’t think there is any value in continuing to engage EPA on the issues.”

Murkowski and other senators spent months attempting to extract information from EPA, to very little avail. The agency’s eventual answers were either incomplete or did not respond to specific questions, relying instead upon broad characterizations of the rule’s likely effects.  Careful review of the text of the final rule should provide important details, and Murkowski has asked her staff to begin that analysis.  

On Nov. 30, FERC devoted an entire day of an electric reliability technical conference to the question of potential reliability impacts of EPA’s pending rules. Nearly every private sector and state government witness testified on the need for more time to comply with Utility MACT and other EPA rules to avoid what could be significant impacts to the reliability of the electric grid. The next day, the administration rushed out a report on resource adequacy implications of forthcoming EPA air quality regulations prepared by DOE’s policy office rather than its reliability experts. Not surprisingly, that report, which was not vetted with FERC or NERC but was reviewed before its release by an expert retained by private interests that support EPA’s initiative, attempts to waive off reliability issues.

Murkowski announced earlier this month that she would begin drafting legislation to define a “safety valve” to ensure that EPA rules adequately take reliability issues into account and can be generally applied fairly across the board.