The Flimsy Trail Of Evidence Behind A Free Beacon Factoid

Source: USGS

The Washington Free Beacon is claiming that Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) voted for “massive new regulations on the coal industry” that will raise electric bills in her state by “as much as 23 percent.” But this figure overstates even a questionable analysis that looked at several EPA rules, not just the mercury and air toxics rule that Sen. McCaskill voted on.

Free Beacon claimed that “the cost of compliance” with the first national standards limiting the emissions of mercury and several air toxics from power plants "could raise consumer electricity bills by as much as 23 percent" in Sen. McCaskill's state of Misssouri, linking to an op-ed that cites a report by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization that works with corporations and state politicians to promote legislation. The ALEC report claims that electric rates in Missouri will rise 11.1 to 23 percent due to several proposed and finalized EPA rules, not just the mercury rule. It is completely opaque in its methodology, but cites two sources that it says partially formed the basis of its utility rate claims. The first source it cites is an estimate from electric utilities themselves; ALEC cites a document from coal giant American Electric Power, which does not contain any information on Missouri's electric rates.

The second source is a 2011 report prepared for a coal industry group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, by NERA Consulting. The ACCCE report studied the combined effects of the aforementioned mercury rule (which at the time of the report was proposed but not finalized), the finalized Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, the proposed coal ash rule and the proposed cooling water intake rule. According to the report, together these rules would increase the average retail electric price by 6.5%, and would increase electric prices in West Missouri by 8% and East Missouri by 11.1%. An expert from Andover Technology, a consulting company for the air pollution control industry, wrote that the ACCCE report “makes several assumptions that are inconsistent with actual practice” and “lead to overestimation of the cost of regulations.” The chief economist at the Natural Resources Defense Council agreed.

And while Free Beacon called the mercury regulation “harsh,” most power plants are already meeting the rule, which will bring the oldest, dirtiest plants into line. And it's not as if the rule is a surprise. The executives of major energy companies have noted that “for over a decade, companies have recognized that the industry would need to install controls to comply with the [Clean Air] act's air toxicity requirements, and the technology exists to cost effectively control such emissions.”