So, New EPA Regs Won't Cause Apocalyptic Blackouts in Texas After All?

Over the course of the last month, both ERCOT and the North American Energy Reliability Corporation have warned of outages as early as next summer, due in large part, they say, to new regs issued by the EPA aimed at reducing the amount of mercury, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants released into the air by coal-fired power plants.

Gov. Rick Perry has decried the pollution limits as "heavy-handed" "job killers." State attorney general Greg Abbott has sued to halt their implementation. Downtown Dallas-based Luminant has complained that it doesn't have enough time to meet the deadlines, and that it will result in mothballed plants and layoffs. Of course, these rules -- which some would describe as long overdue -- have been coming since at least 1990, with the Clean Air Act Amendments passed during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.

Still, rotating outages are a source of concern, no? But then the Department of Energy didn't seem too worried. And now, according to a survey by the Associated Press, the blackouts-and-layoffs cudgel GOP lawmakers and the industry have been using to beat regulators about the head and neck looks a bit overstated. Shutdowns directly attributable to new EPA regs nationwide will number 35 at most, certainly not the cascading mothballing that has been forecast so direly. These are retired units in most cases, mind you, not entire plants.

The survey, based on interviews with plant operators and the EPA's own predictions of plant retirements, indicates most of the plants identified are aged and have "been allowed to run without modern pollution controls" for decades.

Among those to be mothballed are two units at Luminant's Monticello plant near Mount Pleasant, one of the top emitters of chromium and mercury in the country. ERCOT says it shouldn't cause any grid instability.

Anyhow, the EPA should be announcing its finalized rules for emissions of mercury this week, per The Washington Post. It'll be interesting to see what they will mean for Luminant's Big Brown plant, which emits more mercury than any plant in America. Surprisingly, it isn't on the list of known shutdowns.

As an interesting side note, none other than Jerome "The Bus" Bettis, a Steelers legend, has signed on as a spokesman for the new mercury regulations, Politico reports. Bettis was diagnosed with asthma as a teenager and has been an outspoken proponent of curbing power plant emissions. EPA estimates the new rules will prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma.

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Brantley Hargrove