World Resources Institute WRI

An updated response to EEI’s timeline of environmental regulations


This fact sheet updates the analysis done in our earlier response to EEI’s timeline of environmental regulations.

EPA remains on track in issuing rules that provide a path to a cleaner power fleet.

After years of delay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to reduce dangerous and toxic pollutants released to the air and water by electric power plants, as required by the Clean Air Act (CAA) and other statutes. Four key points about EPA’s actions are clear:

  • Contrary to assertions by industry groups, EPA is pursuing a realistic timeline over the next five to ten years to bring the electric power industry into compliance with the law.
  • In most cases, the electric power sector has been on notice for several years (in some cases several decades) that these pollutants would be regulated.
  • Without new regulations, these pollutants will continue to impair America’s waterways, heat the planet, perpetuate acid rain, and lead to preventable hospital visits and premature deaths.
  • In each of its rulemakings, EPA provides for an extensive, open, and evidence-based public process. This leads to more robust and fair rules for the electric power sector. As EPA finalizes each rule, it will establish an increasingly clear pathway for investments in an American electric generation fleet for the 21st century.

CEOs and other representatives of major electric power corporations have suggested that EPA’s regulatory timeline is unworkable. The largest industry trade group, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), produced a slide in 2010 (updated in May 2011) that purports to display an onslaught of new requirements for power plants. EEI has distributed this slide (reproduced in Figure 1) widely on Capitol Hill, where it presumably hopes to win lawmakers’support for additional delays in EPA rules or even a stripping of EPA’s regulatory authority.

WRI has identified four categories of EPA activities on the EEI timeline that are potentially misleading. When these activities are removed, only the timing of actual new compliance obligations is left. In Figure 2, “X”s (color coded for each filter in the screening process) have been applied to remove events from EEI’s timeline that are not consequential from a compliance standpoint.

Rules that have been remanded or vacated by court decisions that do not impose compliance obligations.

  1. Rules that were already in effect when EEI circulated its chart, representing compliance obligations that already exist; there are no new requirements imposed by these rules.
  2. Public input through the rulemaking process (which leads to more robust and fair rules for the electric power sector, and should not be conflated with new compliance obligations).
  3. National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) rules for various pollutants that set standards for states to achieve. They do not establish new requirements for electric generation units.

The EPA regulatory process is far from a “train wreck.” EEI’s misleading timeline consists mostly of procedural events and activities that will not impose a direct compliance obligation on power plants. This serves only to spread confusion about EPA’s actual regulatory schedule.

Figure 3 shows a more accurate picture of the timeline for new requirements applicable to electric power plants.

EPA is carrying out the intent of Congress (through the passage of the bipartisan Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and subsequent amendments) to clean the nation’s air and water. These rules can help the United States transition to cleaner and more efficient power plants by establishing a clear pathway for investments in an electric generation fleet for the 21st century.

The CAA requires EPA and states to regulate and reduce harmful pollutants from major emissions sources, including power plants. To date, this framework has delivered substantial improvements in air quality and significant public health benefits estimated between $82 and $556 billion annually. Over the next decade, power plants will be subject to new rules under the CAA as well as the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to control substances that cause serious health problems and substantial damage to America’s natural resources. These rules will take effect after long lead times; in most cases industry has been on notice for years that these pollutants would be regulated.

Many of the regulations under consideration by EPA have been in the regulatory pipeline for over a decade. Due to administrative delays and litigation resulting in court decisions remanding or vacating previous rules, many of these rules have not been finalized or the final rules were reversed. In many cases Congress has set statutory deadlines for EPA to act, EPA has missed the deadlines, and courts have ordered EPA to act.

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