EPA prepping for a busy 2013

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Energy regulation is a complicated game. Ensuring compliance requires utilities to navigate policy at the local, state, and federal levels while monitoring a host of commissions and government departments. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is among the most influential of these organizations, having carried the torch on issues ranging from air pollution to clean energy and water.

The past year in particular saw many EPA regulations that will impact utility operations begin to take effect. And 2013 is likely to be just as eventful, with the EPA expected to tackle a host of rulemaking now that the presidential election has passed.  

Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, released in October some of EPA's major regulatory initiatives that were delayed into 2013. Major items include: studying hydraulic fracturing, greenhouse gas regulation, an ozone rule, water guidance, storm water regulation, Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rules, and coal ash rules.

Inhofe contends that the regulations will spell doom for American jobs and economic growth. Whether or not that's the case, the fact remains that the EPA will not slow down in 2013.

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MATS is on the minds of utilities, but natural gas is also going to be a major debate heading into 2013 ___________________________

The EPA in early December extended the comment period on proposed Mercury Air Toxics Standards (MATS) reconsideration -- a welcomed sign for utilities concerned that complying with the standards in the proposed four-year timeline will strain grid reliability. The EPA proposal dates back to November and would update the emissions requirements for new power generation, which were originally proposed in December 2011.

EPA pushes ahead on fracking study

MATS is on the minds of utilities, but natural gas is also going to be a major debate heading into 2013.

Congress in 2011 directed EPA to examine potential impacts of the hydraulic fracturing process, which is used to loosen and extract natural gas from subterranean rock.  The EPA has been roundly criticized as a trending liberal, but it maintains that the fracking review is being done objectively and with the participation of diverse stakeholders.

According to the EPA, it "is committed to conducting g a study that uses the best available science, independent sources of information, and a transparent, peer-reviewed process that will ensure the validity and accuracy of the results. The agency is working in consultation with other federal agencies, state and interstate regulatory agencies, industry, non-governmental organizations, and others in the private and public sector."

The EPA study is examining five stages of fracking, including: water acquisition, chemical mixing, well injection, flowback, and produced water and wastewater treatment and disposal. Data is being gathered through 18 research projects, and a draft of the complete study will be released in 2014.

EPA gets a leadership shakeup

At least one member of the team won't be around to see the regulations through. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, appointed in 2009, last week announced her decision to step down from her post as top EPA regulator. Her accomplishments include championing MATS, which will set maximum emissions levels for new electric generation. She also worked on many climate change initiatives and on greenhouse gasses.

Most energy service organizations declined to comment on the shakeup, while environmental advocates joined the Obama Administration in (predictably) lauding Jackson's achievements, completed under stinging Washington partisanship.

"Administrator Jackson put into action the Obama Administration's commitment to ethanol and other biofuels," said Bob Dinneen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, in a release. 

Bob Perciasepe, who has worked under the Clinton and Obama administrations, will take Jackson's place on an interim basis.  

But no matter who is at the helm, the core staff will remain intact, and utilities should remain alert and prepared for continued regulations.  

In an interview with FierceEnergy¸ John Walke, Director of the Climate & Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, reiterated that Congress is the group that sets the EPA agenda, not the administrator.

"The law demands EPA setting health standards and other measures to carry out environmental statutes, enforce the law and protect the public," he said.