The Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) is reacting to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) continual overreach on environmental regulations by ruling that the agency did not properly consider the costs of its Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) rule when it was established in 2011.
The court’s 5-4 ruling June 29 found that the EPA should have considered the cost of its mercury regulation before setting limits in 2011. At the time the agency claimed the cost of the MATS rule would be minimal and would be offset by billions of dollars’ worth of health benefits by preventing illness and thousands of deaths. The EPA’s claims have been disputed and its own analysis showed that more than 98 percent of the benefits from regulation come not from mercury reductions but from improvements in air quality already governed by existing EPA regulations.
However, Michelle Freeark, director of safety and environmental services for Arizona’s G&T Cooperatives, said the ruling will have “little to no immediate impact” on operations at the Apache Generating Station, and she noted that Apache is already in compliance with Arizona’s own State Mercury Rule, which has also been in place since January 2011.
“We have already invested millions of dollars in mercury reduction technology and procedures to comply with the State Mercury Rule,” Freeark said.
Freeark said it’s important to remember that, even though SCOTUS has overturned MATS, it isn’t going away.
“Yesterday’s decision by the Supreme Court has no effect on the MATS Rule as it currently stands,” Freeark said.
“In the very near future, the Supreme Court will formally remand the MATS rule to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals which technically makes the SCOTUS decision final, and it’s very likely the D.C. Circuit will schedule briefings with respect to implementing the Supreme Court opinion,” Freeark said.
“With the open ended decision by the Supreme Court, the D.C. Circuit ultimately could 1) leave MATS in place and remand it to EPA for further explanation and justification, 2) stay the rule; or 3) vacate the rule,” Freeark said.
Whatever the outcome from the D.C. Circuit Court or EPA becomes, if the MATS rule is invalidated, the state mercury rule provides a backstop that would require AZ facilities like Apache Generating Station to increase their mercury removal percentage.
“We will continue to operate as we always do, meeting all current standards and complying with all applicable regulations while working to reduce costs and provide the people at the end of the line who use our power with safe, reliable and affordable electric power,” Freeark said.
Arizona’s G&T Cooperatives
Arizona Electric Power Cooperative (AEPCO), Southwest Transmission Cooperative (SWTC) and Sierra Southwest Cooperative Services collectively make up AzGT Cooperatives.
AEPCO owns and operates the 605 (combined gross) megawatt Apache Generating Station at Cochise, Arizona, east of Benson.
SWTC owns and maintains more than 620 miles of transmission lines and 27 substations that transmit wholesale power from the Apache Generating Station to six Member Distribution Cooperatives in southern Arizona, northwestern Arizona in Bullhead City and Mohave County, and Anza in California.
Combined, the Distribution Cooperatives that receive AEPCO’s wholesale power serve more than 147,000 meters representing more than 350,000 individual residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial customers.
The six Class A Member Cooperatives that receive wholesale power from AEPCO include five in Arizona; Duncan Valley Electric Cooperative in Duncan, Graham County Electric Cooperative in Pima, Mohave Electric Cooperative in Bullhead City, Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative in Willcox, Trico Electric Cooperative in Marana, and the California member, Anza Electric Cooperative in Anza. These Member Cooperatives own the AzGT Cooperatives and by extension, the G&T Cooperatives are owned by their Members, the people at the end of the line who use the power.
The cooperatives are also Rural Utilities Service (RUS), a federal agency, borrowers.
The G&Ts and its Member Cooperatives are not-for-profit utilities.