Legal & Regulatory

PRB Coal Users’ Group: Power Industry Regulatory Updates from Washington

What happens in Washington, D.C., seldom stays in Washington, D.C., so on April 21 at the 17th annual ELECTRIC POWER Conference & Exhibition, the Powder River Basin (PRB) Coal Users’ Group took a look at what is headed their way from the nation’s capital.

The first item was, surprise, a success story, according to Rick Hoffman of American Electric Power. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s final rule (OSHA 1910.269) revises a 40-year-old construction standard for the electric power industry to reconcile somewhat disparate standards for construction protection and for protection of workers in transmission and distribution. Hoffman called it a “case study of industry” and government “working together to bring out something that makes sense.” Praising the role of the Edison Electric Institute in organizing the industry, the story, Hoffman said, “is not about the final product, but about the journey that got us there.”

Another safety issue facing users of PRB coal—combustible dust—is getting attention from the quasi-governmental National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a broad-based multi-industry group that sets fire protection standards, according to Georgia-Pacific. Corp.’s Brice Chastain. He said a new standard “NFPA 652, Fundamentals of Combustible Dust,” is likely to come out by August and go into effect in 2016.

The purpose of the new standard, Chastain said, is to provide a “general umbrella standard,” as a way to reconcile several commodity-specific standards on combustible dust, such as those for wood dust, agricultural dust, metal dust, and the like. Where the new, overarching standard differs with the commodity standard, the existing commodity standard would generally continue to apply. A new requirement for “dust hazard analyses” would be phased in over three years.

OSHA is also working on a standard for emergency preparedness and response, noted Bob Taylor of CoalSAFETY Inc. Taylor said that the aim is to better prepare emergency responders, such as firefighters and rescue personnel, to understand the risks they face and the challenges of dealing with unfamiliar emergency situations. OSHA, Taylor said, has been concerned about the continued deaths and injuries facing emergency responders since 2007, but an earlier regulatory initiative failed.

Last summer, OSHA held a meeting in Washington with stakeholders to get the process under way again. Taylor characterized it as a “brainstorming” session. He said one thing he learned from that was that when it comes to occupational safety, health care and the power industry are the two most regulated sectors of the economy; emergency responders—firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians—are the least. He said he expects the regulatory effort to continue.

Then there is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is often viewed as the bane of the coal and power industries, and the one that gets the most attention. Jeff Arroyo of Sega Inc. offered a laundry list of regulator initiatives coming out of EPA, mostly related to air emissions, but also involving water. They include the issues of: mercury; regional haze; cross-state air pollution (2017); once-through cooling; phase 2 National Ambient Air Quality Standards, with ozone in 2017, particulates in 2018, and SO2 in 2020); effluent limit guidelines, possibly this fall; and, of course, the Big One—the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, headed this way in June.

Kennedy Maize is an energy journalist and frequent POWER contributor.

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