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Energy official says EPA should be monitored, not eliminated

by Dennis Sharkey

With the heat wave that has lasted for well over a month, many northeast Kansans are probably afraid to open their next electric bill.

Other factors including a divided government in Washington have many consumers worried that government overreach could make their electric bills higher.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been a target for many conservatives looking to blame the government for higher energy costs and many have called for the department’s elimination. Some argue the department puts unnecessary regulations that drive up costs and kill jobs.

The EPA was formed in 1970, seven years after the initial Clean Air Act was passed by Congress and signed into law, and is the main law the agency enforces.

Although some are critical of the act and the agency, at least one lobbyist from Kansas is not.

Stuart Lowry, a lobbyist with the Kansas Electric Cooperative and recently named CEO of Sunflower Electric, isn’t critical of the law and said his main job is making sure damage isn’t done to the bill.

Lowry, who spoke to a small group at the Leavenworth-Jefferson Electric Cooperative offices in McLouth on June 30, said the KEC’s main focus is on legislation that may have intentional or unintentional consequences that could affect the KEC’s two main concerns, which are price and reliability.

However, Lowry points out that American cities have much cleaner air and people’s life spans have increased. But a cost for cleaner air is not defined. Nor is the cost of not having regulations. He said there are both external costs and benefits.

“We don’t do a great job in this country capturing either one scientifically,” Lowry said. “But both exist.”

Many pundits on cable television programs speak daily on how new government regulations are hampering business growth. Many of the regulations attacked by critics come from the CAA and the rules and regulations developed from the act by the EPA.

Lowry has a slightly different view. He believes that most regulations once implemented become a part of the normal work process and may even go unnoticed after some time. He said the typical energy worker could be impacted by three or four regulatory agencies a day.

“Once they’re adopted and once they’re implemented and once folks have training, the typical person who is implementing the regulation doesn’t even realize it,” he said.

Lowry said critics have been complaining about the law’s impact for decades without calamity occurring. He said new technologies and regulations can be implemented without damage to the economy if done right.

“Guess what? It got adopted. It was I think a success. Our air is cleaner,” he said. “Did we lose some jobs overseas? Probably did but there was enough balance in the act that it didn’t cripple the economy.”

Lowry said the challenge is to balance the costs and benefits to come up with the right answer.

LJEC Cooperative member Paul Johnson said the problem in Washington, D.C., is that the health benefits from the regulations are not promoted.

Lowry said his organization’s concerns are not focused on the health benefits but agreed that those benefits are not talked about. He said the current state of politics doesn’t allow for issues such as health benefits to be debated.

He said when legislation is debated Congress has done a poor job of synchronizing the information into the debate.

“We have people who will hyper-focus on one aspect of the problem. I’m a little bit guilty of it myself,” Lowry said. “I think it’s getting worse now and not better. If we were operating at our best we would be doing that.”

Lowry cautioned that some recent rules adopted by the EPA could have some negative effects to coal plants.

The EPA has adopted a new standard for coal plants called maximum achievement technology. Lowry favors a best available technology approach.

When building a new plant each operator is going to use the best available technology for construction according to Lowry. However, plants looking to renovate or retrofit new technologies don’t have the same options. In other words the same hat doesn’t always fit each head.

“We think there are some real problems with some of the proposed legislation,” he said. “There’s always that little bit of challenge. There are times when we look at this and say let’s propose legislation that clarifies it.”

Kansas depends on coal for 70 percent of electrical power. If the new rule is implemented it could shutdown many plants in the state.

However, Lowry said the reality is that many of those plants may be approaching a shut down anyway because they are outdated or have outlived their life expectancy.

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Posted by on Aug 9 2011. Filed under Government, State. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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