Michigan utilities work to comply with power plant pollution rule
The EPA estimates costs of around $9.6 billion for power plants to install and operate equipment to remove pollutants
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to release a decision this week about new mercury and toxic air emissions standards for power plants, but Michigan's utility companies have already been working toward compliance.
The case against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is led by Michigan, which was joined by 20 other states.
The justices will take the bench again Monday to hand down more opinions. They should finish their work early in the week. In rare instances, the court will put off decisions and order a case to be argued again in the next term.
The main issue is whether the EPA was required to take costs into account when it first decided to regulate air pollutants from power plants or if health risks are the only consideration under the Clean Air Act.
The EPA estimates costs of around $9.6 billion for power plants to install and operate equipment to remove pollutants in accordance with the rule.
Attorney General Bill Schuette's spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said Schuette "pursued this case to the top because it was an obvious overreach by the federal government."
"Michigan's fragile economy cannot afford the job losses and skyrocketing electricity rates that would accompany the premature implementation of this new federal regulation," she said.
But while the case has been making its way through the courts, the state's utility companies have taken steps to comply with the rule. Michigan's two largest utility companies, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, declined to comment on the case itself. Representatives for each said they are working to ensure their compliance with the rule will not result in layoffs.
Linda Hilbert, executive director of environmental services for Consumers Energy, said the company has been working on compliance since the rule was finalized in February 2012. It took effect in April of this year.
"The last thing we want is to be out of compliance," Hilbert said.
Unlike past rules under the Clean Air Act, where Consumers was able to meet requirements through cap and trade programs, the utility has been installing pollution control equipment on coal-fired units to meet specific limitations.
"It was very, very cost prohibitive," Hilbert said.
That's part of why Consumers will retire seven of its coal-fired units across the state in cases where it didn't make sense economically to add the pollution control equipment, said Dan Bishop, director of media relations for the utility.
Bishop said the company is working to place workers from the retiring coal-fired units within the company where possible.
"As far as electricity prices, we're committed to keeping cost increases below the rate of inflation, and are doing so," he said.
DTE Energy also plans to retire at least two coal-fired units in the state due to old age and the implementation of the air pollution rule. All of the company's plants will meet the standard by April 2016, said DTE senior media relations specialist Erica Donerson.
Donerson said DTE has pledged that no employees will be laid off as part of its transformation. Donerson added that DTE can't predict the impact of all these changes on rates, but said, "To recover the generation lost due to plant retirements, DTE will utilize natural gas and renewable energy sources. Whenever we purchase or build new generation, those costs become part of the rate base."