NRECA: layering other greenhouse gas issues on top of Clean Power Plan is too much

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) on March 24 submitted a letter to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) requesting withdrawal of revised draft guidance that would include greenhouse gas and climate change considerations in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews done by federal agencies.

“The Clean Power Plan (CPP) already inserts many extremely difficult hurdles due to infrastructure constraints, among other factors. And this proposed NEPA guidance would pile on, making compliance with the CPP even more difficult and perversely becoming an obstacle to the very same goals it’s intended to support,” said NRECA CEO Jo Ann Emerson. The CPP, which would cut CO2 emissions by 30% by 2030 at existing power plants, is due out in final form this summer.

The CEQ proposal revises and enlarges the NEPA review to include land and resource management activities and other additions. The new review would affect most projects for additional electric transmission and many for natural gas delivery infrastructure needed to meet CPP mandates, the association pointed out.

Applying the draft guidance to the NEPA reviews required to meet the CPP mandates will almost certainly delay completion of these reviews, create endless opportunities for litigation and prevent the timely completion of infrastructure needed to meet the new standards, it added.

NRECA urged CEQ to withdraw this proposal, or in the alternative limit the proposal to exclude land and resource management activities and confine the NEPA analysis to conform to the recommendations contained in detailed comments submitted by the trade associations American Chemistry Council et al, and the ad hoc Utility Water Act Group (UWAG). NRECA contributes to both of these groups and wholly supports their comments.

The letter noted: “We urge CEQ to be especially cognizant of the proposal’s likely impacts if federal departments and agencies are required to apply the proposed guidance to NEPA reviews for land and resource management activities in view of EPA’s proposed Carbon Dioxide Emission Guidelines for Existing Electric Utility Generating Units under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, the existing source performance standards (ESPS) or the Clean Power Plan (CPP) proposal. If the ESPS proposal is finalized in its present form, it will require dramatic shifts in the nation’s electric generation mix from coal to natural gas-fired in less than five years and require significant additions to the nation’s renewable generation capacity within a few years thereafter. Vast additional natural gas delivery infrastructure will be needed to supply existing and new natural gas-fired electric generating units with needed fuel, and significant additional electric transmission infrastructure will be needed to balance the electric grid so as to ensure that the shift away from coal generation to natural gasfired and renewable electric generation does not create reliability concerns. The majority of this needed infrastructure will likely require federal actions and NEPA reviews.”

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and several other Republican senators sent a letter CEQ listing 12 concerns for why the rule should be withdrawn.

“We are deeply disappointed that the administration is continuing down a path that is both illegitimate and irresponsible. For the reasons set forth below, we once again urge you to withdraw this draft guidance. Failure to do so will paralyze agency action, including actions needed to create jobs and grow our economy, by requiring endless and meaningless analyses and creating new opportunities for litigation to delay and block important projects,” the senators said in the letter. 

In 2010, CEQ issued a draft guidance that many senators asked to be withdrawn. In December 2014, CEQ issued a revised draft guidance that goes even further, by including land management actions. This new draft guidance would apply to all federal projects, permits, and land management activities including highways, oil and gas exploration, and any project requiring a Section 404 Clean Water Act permit. The CEQ guidance directs agencies to include climate change in NEPA analyses, using greenhouse gases (GHG) as a surrogate while considering all upstream and downstream impacts, no matter how remote. The draft guidance creates the potential for citizen activists to stall or stop projects, the senators said.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.