Thursday, June 24, 1999

Hamilton mayor to tell Senate that clean-air plan's too tough




BY JANICE MORSE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Mayor Tom Nye is going to the nation's capital today to tell Congress that rules designed to clean the air could choke the life out of smaller electric utilities, such as Hamilton's.

        “Worst-case scenario: It could put us out of business,” Mr. Nye said Wednesday.

        Mr. Nye was invited to testify today before a Senate committee that is considering stringent new federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) clean-air standards.

        Eleven eastern states petitioned the EPA and asked for new standards. Those states blame Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and other inland states for pollutants that drift eastward, explained John Paskevicz, an engineer with the EPA's Chicago office.

        If approved, the new standards would require utilities to cut emissions of nitrogen oxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels such as coal. Hamilton generates 50 percent of its pow er from hydroelectric sources, but it burns coal when the water sources'levels are too high or too low for power generation, Mr. Nye said.

        “Ohio's public power communities are concerned that EPA's NOx-control strategy goes beyond what is necessary to protect public health and the environment from ozone pollution,” Mr. Nye said in testimony to be presented today. The proposed controls, he said, “are not cost-effective for small businesses and localities.”

        Hamilton and 84 other communities belong to the Ohio Municipal Electric Association and run their own electric utilities. Mr. Nye said he represents that group and the American Public Power Association.

        However, Mr. Nye said, Hamilton's situation is unique.

        The city voluntarily cut its NOx emissions in half by relying heavily upon a hydroelectric plant along the Ohio River near Greenup, Ky. Yet under the new rules, the city would be required to reduce its emissions an additional 85 percent.

        “To be ahead of this curve, we did all of this voluntarily, and now we're being kicked in the teeth for it,” Mr. Nye said.

        Adding the necessary equipment to reduce emissions would be so costly, the utility probably would be forced out of business, Mr. Nye said.

        A larger electric company would also probably find the regulation costly to implement — but would have more money for capital improvements and more customers to absorb the costs, said Mary Moore, a utilities environmental administrator for Hamilton.

        The proposed rules, coupled with deregulation, are creating an uncertain future for smaller utilities, Ms. Moore said.

        “Especially since deregulation just passed, we're being forced to do some of the same things as the big guys with the big units,” she said. “The question is: Can we compete? We don't know.”

        Kevin Aldridge contributed to this story.

       



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