EPA Asserts More Control over States

Published June 13, 2011

States are facing increasing pressure from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to tighten regulations, and those that resist—such as North Dakota—are finding their ability to manage certain programs has been taken away completely.

Years of Compliance
For years, North Dakota’s environmental managers have regulated air quality and haze control in the state. But a recent state plan to reduce nitrous oxide emissions at two coal-fired power plants in Center and in Stanton to improve visibility in the area met with EPA disapproval. Now the federal agency is wresting control of the program from the state.

“I’m doubtful this could be seen as a good thing,” said Daniel Simmons of the Institute for Energy Research. “It is the imposition of more federal control over local and state regulations.”

The federal EPA plan will cost the plant owners millions of dollars while forcing them to buy and use technology that isn’t proven to bring about the desired results, according to statements by Terry O’Claire, air quality chief for North Dakota’s Health Department.

So much for cheap electricity for users, said Clint Woods, director of the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

States Increasingly Challenging EPA
“North Dakota has some of the cheapest electricity in the United States because it utilizes inexpensive, dense, and reliable fossil fuels,” Woods said. “ALEC expects states like North Dakota to continue to push back against EPA’s onslaught through a variety of state approaches.”

In 2001, for instance, North Dakota joined forces with 12 other states to sign and adopt resolutions seeking an end “to EPA’s regulatory train wreck,” Woods said, and to compel the agency to provide truthful numbers on job losses and other impacts that resulted from the agency’s strict rules.

“States are also evaluating their options to rectify this imbalance through lawsuits and interstate compacts dealing with regional air quality and energy production,” Woods noted.

North Dakota officials say they will be challenging EPA’s decision in court. But in the meantime, it’s hardly the only state that is seeing its environmental programs usurped by the federal agency.

‘Heavy-Handed Federal Edicts’
EPA has found fault with an Alabama plan to regulate the level of smokestack soot from industrial plants, even though the state is going by a rule the federal agency established in 2008. Alabama’s plan calls for a change in opacity limits that regulate how much light can be viewed through smokestack emissions. The state seeks to use a measure based on a 24-hour period, rather than an hour-by-hour analysis, to give plants some flexibility in meeting overall mandates in case of equipment malfunctions.

Environmental groups sued, and in response EPA issued a new rule prohibiting Alabama from using the agency’s own “visibility emissions” rule.

“This administration’s EPA continues to run roughshod over state environmental sovereignty while intentionally rejecting the model of cooperative federalism upon which the Clean Air Act is based,” Woods said. “Instead of embracing state experimentation and policies that still allow for affordable, fossil fuel-based energy, the agency has chosen heavy-handed federal edicts with negligible environmental consequences.”

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) writes from northern Virginia.