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NOTE: This series looks at the agency’s overreach and how it affects the day-to-day operations of American businesses.
John Cooper, a former mechanic in the Marine Corps, has spent the past fifteen years working for Ameren, an energy utility company in the Midwest. He started out as a laborer at the firm’s Meramec power plant in 2000, and in the years since has worked his way up to shift supervisor at that same facility in St. Louis. He now supervises the operation of all plant systems.
Soon, there won’t be any systems -- or employees -- left to supervise.
Last year, Ameren announced plans to close the Meramec site, the smallest of the company’s remaining coal-powered plants, by 2022. While the company has cited a number of factors that played into the decision, executives acknowledged that the Environmental Protection Agency’s new, much more strict carbon emission limits for power plants -- which had been proposed one month before Ameren’s announcement -- made it “clearer” the facility would have to close. In fact, the site may be shuttered even sooner depending on how the rules are implemented.
Cooper took notice.
“I have a real concern about the speed at which the changes being implemented by the Clean Power Plan will affect my work location and my life,” Cooper wrote in a comment submitted to the EPA after the agency first proposed the standards last year. “I understand environmental change is coming and I wholeheartedly accept that it is our generation’s responsibility to turn the corner on our lasting effects on the environment. However, you also need to understand that not only is our environment at stake but also the livelihoods of thousands of utility workers and the tax revenues these facilities provide.”
His lone request to the EPA? “For myself and my family, I only ask that you be patient and understanding of our plight and please try to work with my company and the many others like us to help make this transition as painless possible,” Cooper wrote.
Instead, the agency has done precisely the opposite. Officials moved with reckless abandon to implement the new emissions standards, recently issuing a final rule without even taking into account sufficient input from the small business community, as is required by federal law.
“EPA has not provided ... information on the potential impacts of this rule and has not provided Small Entity Representatives with the necessary information upon which to discuss alternatives and provide recommendations to EPA, as required by the Regulatory Flexibility Act,” Claudia R. Rogers, acting chief counsel for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in May. Without that necessary information, Rogers pointed out, small business representatives are “unlikely to succeed at identifying reasonable regulatory alternatives for small businesses.”
Nineteen members of Congress later followed up with the agency to demand a response to Rogers’ concerns. One month later, still without an answer, several senators wrote yet another letter to McCarthy, saying: “We strongly urge the agency to work cooperatively with the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy and the small entity representatives. The integrity of this process – and the confidence that small entities have in it – requires no less.”
John Cooper, Ameren Plant Supervisor on the Clean Power Plan
Like Cooper, they were ignored. The EPA, without ever answering for the steps it skipped in the rulemaking process, issued its final Clean Power Plan carbon emission rules in early August.
It’s not the first time in recent months the agency has been caught skirting its rulemaking responsibilities. In June, the Supreme Court halted the implementation of a similar rule limiting mercury emissions after discovering that the EPA failed to conduct a thorough economic cost-benefit analysis (also required by law) before starting to implement the rule.
Nor is this the only occurrence of the federal agency extending its reach into rulemaking that has historically been left up to states. Criticism has been pouring in over the agency’s recent expansion of the definition of federal waters and its newly proposed ozone standards.
In short, the agency has started asserting unprecedented power over the private sector while turning a blind eye to both the federal rulemaking process and its directives from Congress.
The result is rules like the Clean Power Plan’s carbon emission standards, which did not take into account input from the business community and which will consequently put a drain on the American economy. In the case of Ameren, the firm recently released a study suggesting that compliance with the new rules -- in particular, the rule’s incremental emission reduction checkpoints over the next 15 years -- would cost consumers around $4 billion.
Others have issued similar warnings. One recent study found that the Clean Power Plan would cost U.S. consumers and businesses a staggering $41 billion per year. So far, more than a dozen states’ attorney generals have already taken legal action pushing back against the regulations.
Back at Ameren, Cooper isn’t the only one with a job in jeopardy. The Meramec plant currently employs about 200 people, and the company is still considering its available transfer options.
“That is a scary thing to hear when you have dedicated 15 years of your sweat, blood and tears faithfully providing safe and reliable power to our energy grid here in Missouri,” Cooper said of closing announcement last year. “I cannot tell you how many times I have given up time with friends, holidays with my family and hours of sleep to help ensure my facilities success.”
He added, “I write to you with a real concern for myself and my colleague’s futures.”
If only the EPA would listen.