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The EPA’s War on Fox Lake Power Plant

The Obama administration’s EPA has declared a war on coal-fired power plants.  The president famously remarked he didn’t care if coal power plants operated, but he would make sure they were cost-prohibitive.  His EPA rolled out rules that would make coal-burning power plants a target in his war on mercury and other pollutants.  His radical EPA chief said, “This has been 20 years in the making,” Lisa Jackson, the EPA administrator, said today at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington. “This is a great victory for public health, especially for the health of our children.” Bloomberg News, December 21, 2011.  But, when you look a little deeper, it seems the list of 32 power plants targeted by Obama doesn’t jibe with their reasoning.  It appears the EPA isn’t just targeting polluters, but targeting specific demographic and political areas.

Consider this, in southern Minnesota along Interstate 90, there is a little town by the name of Sherburn.  Outside Sherburn is a power plant that is on the list of targets issued by the EPA.  The Fox Lake power plant has been generating electricity in the area since 1950 and produces power for nearby homes and businesses.  The new rules being promulgated by the EPA define Fox Lake a ‘dirty’ producer of electricity.

From the AP:

“Combined, the rules could do away with more than 8 percent of the coal-fired generation nationwide, the AP found. The average age of the plants that could be sacrificed is 51 years.

These plants have been allowed to run for decades without modern pollution controls because it was thought that they were on the verge of being closed by the utilities that own them. But that didn’t happen.”  ‘Federal clean-air regulations mean closure for dozens of power plants,’ Dec 20, 2011,by Dina Cappiello.

So, finally Fox Lake is being slated for shutdown because it’s time has run out to change over to cleaner forms of energy, right?

Wrong.

From the Fairmont Sentinel, the newspaper from the county where Fox Lake is located:

“There are four production units at the Fox Lake plant, but only two are in operation. Those units produce about 100 megawatts, enough to power about 100,000 homes.

While the plant formerly burned coal, today it only uses natural gas.”

So, we now find out Fox Lake isn’t a ‘dirty’ coal operation at all.  It is a clean electricity producer using only natural gas . . . since 1998.  For the past fourteen years, Fox Lake has been making electricity without the use of coal, and so suddenly it’s a target of the EPA.  But why?  This seems outlandish and capricious.

Ryan Stensland, spokesman for Alliant Energy explained it like this:

“What the EPA looks at are the units, specifically the boilers associated with the units,” he said. “They are identified as being tied to units that could potentially burn coal. If they still have that
capability, they need to be upgraded to bring it into compliance … Even if it were to burn coal for only 10 minutes only one day out of the year, the EPA still wants to have that upgraded to be environmentally compliant.” ‘Fox Lake power plant to be retired — eventually,’ December 23, 2011, Jenn Brookens – Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

So, the EPA created rules that just having a coal burning boiler on the premises makes you a dirty producer of energy.  Given the nearest coal mines to Minnesota are in Illinois, it would be quite the trick for Fox Lake to sneak a few loads of coal to the plant just to skirt the rules.  Since it converted to natural gas over a decade ago, why would it go to all that trouble?  The EPA seems to be creating a rule that prevents an event that simply wouldn’t happen, especially since the coal burners are off-line to begin with.

This is curious.  So, what other reason would the EPA rationally have for shutting down Fox Lake?

From the AP story, “Other rules in the works, dealing with cooling water intakes at power plants and coal ash disposal, could cause the retirement of additional generating plants.”  So, perhaps Fox Lake has water and coal ash disposal issues that caused its shutdown.  Since burning natural gas doesn’t create coal ash that seems to be eliminated as a reason.  However, in a response to the EPA in 2009, Alliant Energy, owner of the plant answered this as to water issues:

“Ash Pond: IPL [Interstate Power and Light] is not aware of any known spills or unpermitted releases from this pond within the past 10 years. For purposes of this question, all discharges exiting the pond via the discharge point governed under the NPDES/SDS permit, including any water quality exceedances, are interpreted to be ‘permitted releases’.” http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/industrial/special/fossil/surveys/alliant-fox.pdf

Regardless, if the ash pond was the issue and water runoff or discharges affected the environment, the EPA would demand a cleanup and containment process.  Since they have not done so, it would appear the environmental angle is not the issue.  The Fox Lake plant burns natural gas which doesn’t emit mercury or other poisonous gases.  It hasn’t had an issue with the ash pond or water.  The entire reason Fox Lake is being shut down by the EPA appears to be because an old coal boiler sits in the building.

This stinks to high heaven.  If the issue were that Fox Lake was inefficient and outdated, it is the owner and the purchasers of electricity who should close it down or modernize it.  If it were an excess of electrical power in the area, this would be a concern of the public utilities commission and the Department of Energy.  However, this is the EPA demanding Fox Lake close down in spite its compliance with every material issue considered.  I refuse to believe the existence of an old-fashioned coal-fired boiler is as the reason for shutting down an electrical generating plant.  Such a thing is simply too stupid to accept.

So, why is Fox Lake the victim of the EPA’s overreach?

After reviewing a list of the power plants to be shut down by the EPA, a specific pattern began to emerge, rural, conservative areas.  Martin County and surrounding counties are consistently more conservative and Republican.  Would this reflect the list as a whole?  http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/List-of-power-plants-retiring-in-face-of-EPA-rules-2410590.php

An overwhelming majority of the list of thirty two sites to be closed voted Republican in 2008.  At least 21 of the 32 sites are represented by Republicans or voted with Republicans in the last election cycle.  Almost every site, with the exception of Alexandria, VA and Louisville, KY, are rural areas that tend to vote for more conservative candidates.  Almost every power plant on the list supplies areas that are hostile to Obama and the radical environmentalist agenda being promoted by this administration.  Since inexpensive energy is the life blood of a dynamic, growing economy, it seems strange only these areas would be held to these capricious standards.  Meanwhile, there are plenty of other power plants that are not on the list but burn coal.

This is not to suggest Lisa Jackson sat down with David Axelrod and plotted which districts they wanted to punish because of political reasons.  On the contrary, I think we have been told Obama isn’t even going to try and get the blue collar, rural or exurban white vote.  Instead of picking victims, the demographics of these areas allowed them to be targeted without worry of political fallout.  If there were questions, the EPA would just refer to mercury and other pollutants as the reason for the closures.  Any anger at the arbitrary rules wouldn’t affect the president’s reelection effort in the least since the people served by the plants have been written off already.

But, the Fox Lake example shows the EPA rules are not driven by environmental concerns.  Lisa Jackson has written energy sector rules, not environmental rules that make sense.  It’s also no surprise the Fox Lake power plant sits within an area with several wind farms.  The electricity generated by these windmills is significantly more expensive than that generated by burning natural gas.  To equalize prices, the EPA is making fossil fuel electricity more dear and therefore more expensive thereby making wind energy more competitive.  This kind of duplicity and abuse of power is becoming more apparent in the Obama administration.  Instead of just making the case for a policy, they make up an excuse to change the nation’s power grid with contrived reasons.

We are witnessing the most ‘transparent’ administration in history revealing itself as the most devious.  The war on Fox Lake is just a good example of their disingenuous nature and a philosophy of deceit and thuggery.  The people served by these power plants should be furious.  The rest of the country should be alarmed.  After all, it could be your power plant and pocket book that are affected next.

Crossposted at Looktruenorth.com

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