Power Partisanship

An excellent, easy-to-understand summary of New Source Review in today’s Wall Street Journal. A sample:

New Source Review dates back to the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments. In that era of petroleum shortages and fear of nuclear power, Congress realized the coal would continue to be a major source of American energy. So it wrote rules to ensure that any new power plants or other major pollution sources be fitted with the latest emissions-control technology. It did not, says Carter Energy Secretary James Schlesinger, intend for existing plants to make the upgrade. So everyone else believed and behaved for two decades.

But then the Clinton Administration, with its famous regard for the rule of law, got mad that utilities weren’t reducing emissions beyond what Congress had required. Dozens of companies were brought to court on the novel charge that routine maintenance like replacing a steam duct or a turbine blade amounted to a “major modification,” triggering NSR and requiring the installation of expensive scrubbers. The alleged scofflaws included the Feds’ own Tennessee Valley Authority, as well as Detroit Edison, whose crime was installing more efficient (i.e., less polluting) turbines.

The Clinton actions were so outrageous that the utilities, which would normally be inclined to settle and preserve cozy relations with the government, stood their ground. But as the cases wend their way through the courts, they’ve been deferring maintenance and putting the nation’s electricity supply at risk.

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