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Senate Republicans Ask for Review of CDPHE’s Regional Haze Plan (Bonus: Regional Haze Primer)

The Politics Colorado Blog today reports great news:

“Tuesday, Senate Republicans sent a letter to Senate President Shaffer asking Legislative Council to hold a public hearing to review the changes made to the State Implementation Plan (SIP) for implementing regulations for “regional haze”…

…”We think it’s important that Legislative Council hold a public hearing on this effort to give the General Assembly and public more time to consider the impact this plan will have on Colorado,” said Senator Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley.

“Serious questions and concerns have risen about the timing of the information and the data used in the plan,” concluded Renfroe.

As readers of this blog know well, I’ve long railed against the CDPHE’s manipulations of the regional haze rule. In short, the Department has used this regulation to push an anti-coal agenda.

On Monday, I wrote about how the CDPHE used the regional haze rule to engineer the false threat of a federal regulatory crackdown in order to push an HB 1365 implementation plan through the PUC in about a third of the time that electric resource plans usually require. The resulting rush shortchanged Colorado electricity consumers, because the PUC did not have sufficient time to properly vet Xcel’s proposed implementation plan.

About a month ago, I wrote about how the General Assembly of Colorado should reject the CDPHE’s proposed Regional Haze due to the unacceptably high 40:1 cost:benefit ratio  of the plan’s controls for the Hayden 1 and 2 power plants near Steamboat Springs (in a nutshell, the proposed controls are at least $100 million too expensive—even by the EPA’s standards).

And, a half year ago, I co-wrote, with the Independence Institute’s Amy Oliver Cooke, a policy paper explaining how CDPHE manipulated the regional haze rule to justify HB 1365, legislation that effectively mandates fuel switching from coal to natural gas for almost 1,000 megawatts of electricity generation.

Clearly, this regulation has figured prominently in Colorado energy policy. Yet it dawned on me this afternoon that I’ve yet to adequately explain the regional haze rule, despite my having written about it repeatedly. With that in mind, this post is meant to offer readers a regional haze primer.

Here’s a bare bones timeline of the regional haze regulation:

  • In 1977, the Congress amended the Clean Air Act to include, among other things, a provision to improve visibility at national parks and wildlife areas.
  • At the time, however, the science of visibility was highly uncertain. In 1980, EPA deferred promulgating substantive regional haze regulations until the science improved.
  • In 1990, the Congress again amended the Clean Air Act, and, in so doing, appropriated funds for a scientific study of visibility that could be used to create Regional Haze regulations.
  • In 1999, the EPA promulgated substantive regional haze regulations. It sets forth a national goal of achieving “natural” air quality conditions by 2064.
  • In July 2005, the EPA issued a guidance document to assist states in implementing regional haze controls.
  • December 17, 2007, was the deadline for states to submit State Implementation Plans to achieve BART. Only a couple states bothered to submit a plan (Colorado was one of them).
  • On January 9, 2009, the EPA made a finding of failure to submit all or a portion of their regional haze State Implementation Plans (SIPs) for 37 states. This notice started a two-year countdown to a new deadline for regional haze state implementation plan submissions.
  • January 9, 2011 was the second deadline.

And here’s a barebones breakdown of what the regional haze regulation entails

  • Unique among Clean Air Act provisions, states are accorded primary authority to achieve regional haze rules.
  • Regional haze applies to stationary sources, although there is no prohibition of regulating mobile sources.
  • The regulation of stationary sources is performed through the “BART” process (Best Available Retrofit Technology).
  • For Colorado, a stationary source is subject to regional haze emissions controls if it was built between 1962 and 1977, and if it worsens visibility at a national park by at least .5 deciviews. A deciview is loosely defined as a 10% attenuation of visibility, and peer reviewed scientific research suggests that there is a 17%-35% chance that a human would notice a 1 deciview improvement.
  • For BART eligible sources, the state has great latitude in choosing a pollution control, especially for power plants that are less than 750 megawatts.

The most important take-home points about regional haze are that (1) it’s an aesthetic regulation (that is, it has nothing to do with public health) and (2) the states have the primary authority.

Take-home point #2 is especially important. The Ritter administration tried to make it seem as if HB 1365 was a necessary evil in order to avoid a federal crackdown. That is, they tried to justify fuel switching by blaming big brother. In fact, the state—and not the feds—had primary authority. As such, the need for fuel switching existed only in the minds of New Energy Economy enthusiasts.

William Yeatman is an energy policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.