The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) are an overreaching regulation promulgated by former President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit emissions of mercury and air toxics. When the Obama EPA drafted the mercury rule, it estimated it would cost the industry and ultimately consumers $9.6 billion a year—the most expensive clean-air regulation in history—with the direct public health benefits of reducing mercury at just $6 million a year—a 16,000 to 1 cost vs. benefit tradeoff. It was not until it tallied the “co-benefits” of installing the scrubbers—a reduction in other pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and fine particulate matter that it reached benefits that outweighed the costs. The related benefits EPA estimated to be worth $80 billion over five years. The problem with the analysis is that the other pollutants were already covered by existing regulations, thereby double counting benefits by added another costly regulation on industry. Obama’s EPA was cooking the books.
The standard became moot when the Trump administration discounted the co-benefits in April 2020. The Trump administration’s EPA indicated that the cost of cutting mercury from power plant emissions “dwarfs” the economic benefits and argued that the Obama rule could not be justified as “appropriate and necessary.”
Not only is President Biden’s EPA reinstating the old rule but it is also beginning the process to gather public health information and public input to strengthen the regulation. According to an electric industry official, an onslaught of new rules could raise the cost of power to business and consumers, forcing older plants powered by coal, oil and natural gas to close. While this may be the Biden’s administration’s goal, this clearly is not a time when America’s dispatchable power should be forced to retire as those sources are increasingly needed to backup renewable generation, particularly when renewable energy has shown it cannot keep the lights on 24/7. And as the percentage of intermittent sources goes up, so does the need for reliable backup power.
California, which gets 33 percent of its power from renewables, saw rolling back outs in the summer/fall of 2020 as a heat wave hit it and surrounding states limiting its ability to use its escape valve, imports of power from other states. To ensure sufficient generation, it added expensive batteries and 5 “temporary” natural gas plants. In February, 2021, Texas was caught in a freezing ice storm and lost wind power that had been providing almost half of the state’s generation until the storm hit. The huge decline in electricity prompted the system managers to cycle blackouts, including to the oil and gas fields, which need electricity to make natural gas used for generation. This further compounded the problem which cascaded into disaster. Many Texans lost power for days in extremely cold temperatures for the region. Europe is experiencing a loss of power due to lack of resource—the wind—and has little backup power causing prices to escalate to unimaginable levels. Natural gas prices, for example, are the equivalent of $180 per barrel oil, compared to about $33 a barrel in the United States—over 5 times as high.
In addition to toxic pollutants such as mercury, the EPA also plans to propose tougher standards to reduce visible air pollution, haze, generated by power plants. The EPA announced last summer it would revisit changes made in 2020 to Effluent Guidelines for power-plant wastewater. It plans to issue a proposal by this fall to strengthen discharge limits. The Biden administration sees regulations to address mercury and other emissions from power plants as a back-door way to also address climate change, particularly if the regulations encourage industry to replace fossil-fuel burning plants with wind or solar units.
The problem that will emerge, however, is that the United States depends on China for the supply chain for these so-called green energy devices. Moving in this direction replaces American Energy Dominance with Chinese Energy Dependence, as China burns more and more coal to make wind and solar energy components. The Biden administration is simply off-shoring U.S. manufacturing and energy security to the Chinese, who produce more carbon dioxide per dollar unit of good than the United States. This policy produces the opposite result of its stated intent.
President Biden has turned to regulation to attain his greenhouse gas reduction goals since his Build Back Better bill could not pass the Senate. He wants the United States to retire fossil fuel plants and in their place to build intermittent solar and wind plants that have been shown to be incapable of providing a reliable energy grid. In decades of building these heavily subsidized and state mandated renewable plants, they only represent 11 percent of the total generation in the United States and have been shown to need backup power since they cannot produce power when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun is not shining. But, the Biden administration, in its infinite wisdom, is marching forward with regulations that it hopes will retire coal, oil and natural gas plants, making room for more and more solar and wind plants. What the administration is missing is that it will also mean more and more brown outs and black outs and much higher energy prices as Germany and the rest of Europe have experienced. It also means more reliance on China, the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter, to supply the green energy devices Biden is betting America’s future upon. But that is precisely what the Biden administration wants for Americans as it continues to destroy the American energy system.