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Former EPA Official Says New Rules Costly

A raft of new regulations will leave energy companies uncertain about how to run their businesses and could drive up electricity prices, a former EPA official said.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- A raft of new Environmental Protection Agency regulations will leave energy companies uncertain about how to run their businesses and could drive up electricity prices, a former EPA official told the state Public Service Commission on Thursday.

The agency has said it hopes to have tighter restrictions on the emissions of greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide, mercury and other elements in place by the end of 2012.

Jeff Holmstead, who directed the EPA's air and radiation office from 2001 to 2005 during the Republican President George W. Bush's administration, told the commission the new rules will quickly change policies that have been stable for 40 years. He called the new regulations an "unprecedented" amount of change for power companies.

"Anybody who cares about electric reliability, the affordability for ratepayers, or anybody who is trying to operate a power generation company, are in a position where they don't know all the investments they'll be required to make over the next few years," said Holmstead, who is now an air-quality lawyer who represents industry groups.

Holmstead was the featured speaker at a PSC forum at the state Capitol on Thursday. The commission, which regulates utilities and coal mining, brought officials from the state's energy companies to discuss the impact of the new EPA rules.

About a dozen environmental activists rallied before the meeting, singing and carrying signs to support the EPA and its policies. Several complained that environmental advocates weren't represented in a panel discussion that was part of the meeting.

"No one's taking into account the benefits for the environment or health that these regulations are trying to address," said Wayde Schafer, representing the North Dakota chapter of the Sierra Club.

Dave Glatt, the environmental health director in the North Dakota Health Department, said the state may need tougher rules to make sure North Dakota's oil boom doesn't cause permanent environmental damage.

But Glatt said some of the EPA's rules overlap and make it difficult for companies to follow. The federal agency should work more closely with states to ensure that environmental controls make sense for industry and electricity users, he said.

"We want environmental protection and we want things to get better, but we also want to have a vibrant economy where people can have a job and enjoy the environment," Glatt said. "If they don't have a job and the economy's poor, the environment kind of takes a back seat."
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