Good Life

New EPA rules will lead to blackouts, Kansas utilities claim

Here are two versions of what it will be like to live in Kansas in 2012:

Either residents will suffer rolling blackouts and pay more for the privilege, or nothing will happen at all.

Backing the energy disaster scenario are utilities and the state itself. The other side is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups.

The dispute will play out in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.

At the heart of the argument is the so-called cross-state transport rule, which seeks to prevent pollution from coal-fired power plants from blowing to other states by requiring utilities to reduce emissions.

Kansas utilities say that the rules have come so quickly and are so stringent that they won’t be able to comply in time. As a result, thousands of Kansans will experience rolling blackouts or brownouts, which will also cost jobs when the plants shut down. In addition, customers will face higher utility bills to pay for more than $100 million in new pollution control expenses and other costs.

“The adverse effects from such reductions caused by the 2012 emission limits are dire, concrete, substantial and imminent,” attorneys for Kansas utilities told a federal appeals court.

EPA says that’s nonsense. The costs will be far less — between $5 million and $30 million — and Kansas utilities will have more than a year to implement the emission controls.

“Kansas has failed to show that the lights will go out in Kansas,” attorneys for the EPA wrote.

In fact, the EPA says the benefits of the transport rule — prevention of 83 to 210 deaths annually in Kansas and a savings of $700 million to $1.7 billion annually in health care — far outweigh the utilities’ costs.

For decades, utilities had been to slow to curtail the release of millions of tons of dangerous emissions annually. But in recent years those utilities, prodded by the EPA and aware that stringent regulations were in the offing, have been installing pollution controls.

EPA announced the transport rule on July 6. It orders 21 states from Kansas east to the Atlantic to decrease by 70 percent sulfur dioxide emissions and by 50 percent nitrogen oxides from the burning of coal in power plants.

The new emission reductions for Kansas would reduce pollution not only in Kansas but also states that are downwind, including Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Reducing pollution would benefit millions of people in those states, the EPA said.

Missouri utilities, which had been under an earlier order than Kansas, generally have already complied.

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