Environmental Analysis: New Source Review Considered Old Hat
EPA made a major announcement on June 13, 2002 that the broad-based New Source Review (NSR) program, intended to encourage emission reductions from major new sources of air pollution, will be abandoned and replaced with a new program designed to support pollution prevention projects, energy efficiency improvements and investments in new technologies and modernization of facilities. This move spells good news for electrical facilities that gambled on EPA's political agenda to move away from enforcement and toward a more moderate initiative that would permit existing facilities to operate "as is" until a new approach is approved.
What does this mean to the average person?
The idea of NSR is a relatively simple one: phase out older, dirtier technologies in favor of newer, cleaner ones. For the companies that have done this, the effects are impressive, often times realizing pollution reductions of greater that 90%. Conversely, when older and dirtier technologies are brought back to life or have extended life due to retrofit technologies, the purpose of NSR may not be met. This is especially concerning when the retrofit technology allows a facility to operate more efficiently and with greater throughput that potentially leads to increased pollutant loading even though the pollution per unit of output is decreased.
In one way or another, as consumers and human beings that breathe air, we are impacted by NSR. As consumers, we are led to believe that our utility rates will be impacted. Don't let your local energy company try to persuade you on this. The utilities won the NSR battle by applying extreme pressure on politicians and successfully influencing the outcome of EPA's latest announcement. Lobbying pressure does not come cheap, so be wary of the line item on your utility bills that spell out the costs to comply with the Clean Air Act. The line between complying with and lobbying against can get blurred, especially in today's creative accounting environment.
At any rate, cheaper utilities should equate to less costs associated with production and therefore less expensive products. This should mean more purchasing power for consumers. In this respect, it certainly seems like a good tradeoff to eliminate the NSR program altogether.
As far as being effected by the air we breathe, your guess is as good as mine. Quite honestly, I'm not sure whom to believe on the health issues related to air pollution, especially when we begin to look at things on a global basis. It does concern me that childhood asthma cases are at extreme levels per capita compared with the 1950s and 60s, but statistics can be misleading. For example, one might ask if the increases in readily available prescription medications to treat the symptoms of asthma haven't had an influence on the rate of asthma diagnoses.
The other concern that comes to mind when debating issues like NSR are the negative externalities associated with the entire process and the influence this has on those that have witnessed the political maneuvering from both within and outside the focal points of the debate. There is no question that rules that discourage plant upgrades to new and cleaner technologies should be dismantled. However, doesn't the interpretation of these rules that eventually lead to societal actions serve a greater purpose within a free market economy? Isn't it the job of the rule makers and the judicial officials to make sure the playing field is level? To this end, what about the companies that tried to do the right thing over the past 30-years only to be chastised by the companies that "held out" to see if they would get caught? Aren't we perversely supporting unlawful behaviors when we reward strategies that circumvent the law?
I'm in agreement with those opposed to the stifling interpretation of NSR and the way it has been enforced by the EPA. Consequently, I'm in disagreement with companies that lobby to be exempted from certain rules under the auspicious that their plant is outdated and will be taken off-line only to reverse their position, once exempted, by extending the life of outdated technologies. This is exactly what many utilities did and instead of taking their old technologies off-line, they retrofitted them with new equipment and attempted to fly under the radar hoping that no one would question what they lobbied for 30-years ago.
There is no doubt that NSR is defunct and needs to be rethought. I only hope that this time it doesn't take 30-years and those that try and do the right thing aren't condemned. or worse yet, put out business, by those who choose to gamble and avoid pollution reduction.