PEC Must Say NO to Joining Lawsuit Against EPA

Air pollution emissions from an industrial complex, 1970

Air pollution emissions from an industrial complex, 1970

Opinion by Larry Landaker

Just days ago the PEC board passed a resolution to move PEC forward on a path toward the integration of  practical and affordable renewable energy. By unanimously approving a plan that will provide members with competitive (and non-member subsidized) solar generation options, PEC appeared to be moving forward with an eye toward the future of energy production.  Director Emily Pataki now apparently intends to fulfill a partisan errand she promised to supporters to seek a board vote on a preposterous resolution drafted for the PEC board meeting Thursday, December 17.

Her resolution would effectively undermine the board’s December 7 solar generation resolution  (that she voted to support) by authorizing and causing PEC to join, by way of amicus brief, a federal lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Her resolution states that PEC would enjoin a lawsuit filed against the EPA by the  Center for the American Future which is associated with the uber-conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF).

PEC is going to have to decide what kind of a cooperative it intends to become. Is it to be one that embraces the inevitable global trend toward clean renewable energy or one that embraces the past  with a reliance on carbon based utility generation?   The monumental Paris global initiative suggests that U.S. and the world have chosen the former. PEC should read the tea leaves, reject  Pataki’s resolution and embrace the future. What is the benefit for PEC to join this lawsuit?

Not with a ten-foot pole should PEC entangle itself in a lawsuit of this kind. According to critics, TPPF’s research and advocacy is influenced by donations from a relatively small group of major corporations. Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, told the Texas Observer, “Most think tanks work for their funders and TPPF’s donors are a Who’s Who of Texas polluters, giant utilities and big insurance companies.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement that power plants are going to have to cut carbon dioxide emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 has sparked cries that it’s a recipe for economic woe. PPF is committed to opposing it and is lining up like-minded interests to go along.  Director Pataki and her allies want to challenge the authority of the EPA’s implementation of rules regarding the standards for reductions of emissions of carbon dioxide for electric utility generating units (commonly referred to as “The Clean Power Plan). This is a highly partisan agenda.

Of course they do not tell you the real reason they oppose EPA and the Clean Power Plan. They pretend to argue that the rules are unfair, that they will raise utility rates,  that we must sue to protect our members, blah blah blah. What they don’t tell you is that the many parties who have already filed suit against the EPA, including the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) are shilling for oil, gas and coal interests–the generation and transmission giants who wag the tail of the cooperatives who belong to the same association.

 

Passage of such a resolution would be a collosal mistake. In spite of the fact that the EPA and the Obama administration have become the whipping post of the conservative right there is hardly a consensus among PEC members that actions taken by the EPA to enforce Federal clean air and clean water laws are inappropriate. Indeed there is cost associated with these moves. But the cost to all of our health and well being are rarely considered in the cost-analysis equation.

PEC should in fact be following the lead of communities like Boulder, CO. That city recently joined the coalition in DEFENSE of the EPA Clean Power Plan, joining 25 states, cities and counties.

In the filing, the city issued a declaration pdf signed by Mayor Suzanne Jones defending the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan against legal challenge. Mayor Jones in her declaration said concerns about carbon pollution and climate change “make the Clean Power Plan a necessary regulation for protecting the health and safety and quality of life of our residents.”

The Clean Power Plan, finalized in August, requires states to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants, the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the nation, by 32 percent over the next 15 years, compared to 2005 levels, and gives states flexibility in achieving those reductions.

 

Assuming a lawsuit against the EPA is warranted (which it is not) PEC is well represented by NRECA….our trade association….along with 6 Texas Generation & Transmission coops named in the national challenge to the CPP. NRECA is no stranger to the battle over the EPA Final Rule.  The battle has been fought at the federal agency itself, in the U.S. Congress, in Texas and in federal courts. The CPP fight has drawn 80 industry petitioners in 18 dockets.

Before signing on to a lawsuit against the EPA, PEC members should  be informed and provided an opportunity to voice their concerns before signing on to this unprecedented action.  They need to know why PEC should be involved.

We cannot presume to know how our membership feels about the CPP.  We do know that a large majority of our members are asking for more renewable energy opportunities.  This action by Director Pataki is on the floor cold, without deliberation and careful analysis.

 Director Pataki is a history major so she certainly knows that the EPA was established by a Republican president, Richard Nixon in December, 1970 with wide bipartisan support.

 

In 1970, well before Director Pataki was born,  the U.S. was an environmental basket case. There were only 205 million people living here then compared to 320 million today. Consider what the American landscape looked like in 1970 prior to the establishment of the EPA:

utilityplantairpollution2

Utility plant emissions from coal fired generation 1970

water pollution 1970

The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, 1970. It was around this time that the fire department was called. Lake Erie was on fire.

airpollutionpittsburgh

Pittsburgh at high noon, 1970. Considered at the time to be one of the most polluted cities in the country

Some claim the EPA has over extended its authority in some cases. Thus far the courts have not sustained that claim. Indeed, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Clean Air Act not only gives the EPA the right to control carbon emissions but it also requires the EPA to do so. Like it or not the EPA is charged with enforcing Federal law with respect to clean air and water. Our cities and water do not look today like these photos of 1970. If there was no EPA our nation would look like Bejing today.

bejing today

Bejing today

Yes, there has been a cost to clean up the mess left by free and unregulated capitalism. But the benefit to clean air and water have enormous health and economic benefits which deserve to be part of the discussion.

 

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2 thoughts on “PEC Must Say NO to Joining Lawsuit Against EPA

  1. Well, the vote occurred on Dec 17, and the PEC board didn’t say “no”. There are always special interests that attach themselves to every issue, and this one is no different. The problem with most of us (and I see myself as an example) is that often we don’t have all the facts, and some facts trump others. I was convinced prior to the meeting that saying “no” was best.
    The board decision for PEC to file amicus curiae brief against the CPP was made after convincing and often emotional testimony – with the environmentalist side having the preponderance of time and speakers. However, after listening to arguments advanced by Mr. Hewa and Mr. Sterzing concerning reliability, I’m willing to “eat crow”, change my mind, and believe the 4 to 3 vote to file Amicus Brief led to an appropriate decision. (It’s the only vehicle to supply the court in DC with our Co-op’s position on reliability.)
    And reliability is a big deal.
    I’ve always known, but failed to connect “reliability” with the fact that coal plants have months of fuel supply sitting at their sites, whereas gas fired plants are subject to almost instant and prolonged disruption if natural gas supply is lost. The issue simply must be regarded in a different light than strictly an environmental one. Almost everyone present in that Board Room realizes that coal must be phased out to protect the environment – long term. But Mr. Hewa was right. “The CPP is not a plan in the tactical sense.” It would appear that CPP is apparently some years ahead of its time, and would put Texas and the US in jeopardy of severe power curtailments (blackouts) in the event of gas supply disruption. (The word “terrorism” was not used in the meeting, but to me, that’s the issue.) Until utility scale battery storage becomes available and we can replace the inherent reliability of coal with something better, distributed across the grid, we can’t risk losing the grid.
    I don’t think the environmentalists who made comment were in error. But in my mind they got trumped by a larger issue. It’s just that the potential for bringing our society to its knees, and sitting in the cold and dark is not worth the risk of implementing CPP, at this point, when the same Administration advancing the CPP is making it easy for terrorists to enter our country. The grid is vulnerable, and CPP would make it more so.

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