It’s rare that you see bipartisan agreement on a federal regulatory issue. Yet that’s what happened earlier this month when the combined congressional delegations of South Dakota and North Dakota signed a letter opposing an Environmental Protection Agency decision to reject Wyoming’s implementation plan on regional haze and impose a federal alternative.
Why are the delegations of the Dakotas concerned about an EPA plan for Wyoming haze?
According to the letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s plan will cost utilities up to $1 billion to install catalytic reduction technologies on power plants in Wyoming in order to lower nitrogen oxide emissions. The new equipment also will be more costly to operate. And since utilities in western South Dakota and North Dakota operate power plants in Wyoming, electricity rates could soar if the EPA gets its way.
“This decision is concerning and could potentially be very costly to ratepayers across the region, including approximately 700,000 South Dakotans and North Dakotans, many of them living in rural areas in our states,” the letter states.
Wyoming’s plan, the Congress members wrote, reduces emissions and improves visibility at a reasonable cost. The delegations asked McCarthy to review her agency’s decision and analyze the federal plan, which, they said, comes with “huge costs and imperceptible benefits.”
Black Hills Power has several power plants in Wyoming, and already has closed some of its coal power plants due to restrictive emissions requirements that were too costly to meet. BHP has already raised rates for South Dakota consumers and is asking the state Public Utilities Commission to make the rates permanent so it can recoup costs for building newer power plants. The EPA’s proposal would require costly equipment upgrades to existing plants that could lead to further rate increases.
The rejection of Wyoming’s regional haze plan doesn’t make sense because the air quality in Wyoming and the western Dakotas rank as among the best in the nation. In fact, the American Lung Association's "State of the Air 2013" listed Rapid City in the top four cities in the United States with the cleanest air. How much cleaner can the cleanest air in the nation get? And why should South Dakotans be required to pay significantly more for electricity to have cleaner than the cleanest air?
It’s remarkable when Democratic Sens. Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota – no allies of big utility companies – join their Republican counterparts to disagree with the environmental zealots at the EPA. This is not a partisan issue; it’s an issue that affects the constituents of both political parties.
Wyoming power plants are not significantly polluting the air in the Dakotas, and consumers should not have to pay higher electric bills to eliminate haze that can’t be seen.