Shutdown Could Set Back (Slightly) New EPA Rules

A plume of exhaust extends from the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on September 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania. The plant, owned by FirstEnergy, will be one of two plants in the region to be shut down, affecting 380 employees. The Evironmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Obama administration have been taking major steps to get coal-fired power plants into compliance with clean air regulations.
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Alex Brown
Oct. 1, 2013, 7:32 a.m.

The coal in­dustry has already claimed one vic­tory this week with the with­drawn nom­in­a­tion of Ron Binz, and it may stand to gain — if only mar­gin­ally — from the gov­ern­ment shut­down as well. The shut­down, ac­cord­ing to the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency, could delay the im­ple­ment­a­tion of tightened stand­ards for new power plants.

The forced cut­back of em­ploy­ees, the agency said in an email, would delay the rules’ pub­lic­a­tion in the Fed­er­al Re­gister, which in turn would set back the 60-day com­ment peri­od and re­quired pub­lic hear­ing be­fore the im­ple­ment­a­tion of new reg­u­la­tions.

Still, any delays are likely to be in­sig­ni­fic­ant, said former EPA air of­fi­cial Jeff Holmstead. “If the dis­rup­tion has an im­pact, it’s likely to be on lower pri­or­ity things,” Holmstead said. “[EPA staffers are] part of a pro­cess that takes years, so a gov­ern­ment shut­down of a few days or a few weeks doesn’t really have a big im­pact. … On a rule­mak­ing of this size, EPA al­most al­ways ex­tends the rule­mak­ing any­way.”

The agency also cited the fact that staff mem­bers af­fected by the shut­down would be un­able to an­swer pub­lic ques­tions on the new reg­u­la­tions, and a lengthy shut­down could in­ter­fere with the 11 planned pub­lic listen­ing ses­sions on the is­sue. But since the rules have already been made pub­lic, Holmstead said, “that’s not really a sig­ni­fic­ant part of rule­mak­ing at this point.”

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