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EDITORIAL: EPA defeat won’t save Nevadans

Late last month, America witnessed a rare moment of scaling back the constant bureaucratic overreach in Washington, D.C., with a decision that could save many millions of people many millions of dollars. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case here in Nevada.

As reported by Reuters’ Lawrence Hurley, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court found the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency should have considered the cost of compliance when it decided to limit emissions of air pollutants, mainly from coal-fired power plants. Imagine that: a regulatory agency imposing its will against businesses — and more so the people those businesses serve — while failing to consider how much it’s going to cost everybody. That’s pretty much par for the course with bureaucracies at all levels of government. The surprise is that the Supreme Court struck down the ozone restriction mandate.

The EPA has had these regulations in the pipeline for several years and had actually planned to release the new rules in August 2011. But President Barack Obama, worried about his re-election chances, delayed it, saying the regulation would place an unfair burden on industry and local governments during tough economic times. Now, with the president riding out the late stages of his second term, he apparently expects us to believe the same regulation would not create the same economic burden.

Mr. Hurley noted that the case will now return to an appeals court, which will decide whether the case should be thrown out. Short answer: Yes, it should. Environmentalists and public health professionals tout the regulation’s positive impact on air quality, but it would actually do more harm than good. American air quality already is improving under existing regulations, but the new rules would force the owners of power plants and factories to install expensive technologies that will drive up electricity prices, kill jobs and, ultimately, deal a fatal blow to the coal industry.

So the Supreme Court’s decision should be good news — but not in Nevada. The ruling is not expected to change NV Energy’s power plant operations or its ongoing push to wean itself from coal, due largely to an ill-advised law passed by Nevada’s 2013 Legislature. Senate Bill 123 requires NV Energy to close the Reid Gardner power plant near Glendale and replace it with cleaner power generating facilities. NV Energy will also not take power from the Navajo coal-burning plant in northern Arizona by 2019, and its other coal-fired plant, the North Valmy Generation Station near Battle Mountain, is scheduled to close in 2025.

The bill was an effort to get ahead of the expected enforcement of the new EPA restrictions. We were abandoning coal and other cheaper energy because the EPA was going to make us do it anyway. But now that the EPA has been stifled by the Supreme Court, we’re going to pay for the Legislature’s premature measure. And make no mistake, there is plenty of less-expensive power available. The most powerful evidence of that is data storage giant Switch and many large Strip hotels seeking to leave NV Energy and buy their electricity on the wholesale market — with Switch willing to pay an $18.5 million exit fee to do so. Switch wouldn’t be willing to do that if cheaper power weren’t available.

The EPA and many of its fellow bureaucratic agencies often seem like an unstoppable force. Still, the 2013 Legislature made a terrible decision to push through SB123 without knowing the fate of the EPA proposal. Future Legislatures should proceed with much more caution. Higher energy prices are a tax on everyone, and Nevada citizens are now going to pay the price.

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