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Director of Utilities testifies in Congressional hearing

Megan Doyle | Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Notre Dame Director of Utilities Paul Kempf testified before the Congressional Subcommittee on Energy and Power April 15 in Washington, D.C., providing expertise concerning clean air standards.

The air standards reviewed were first issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2004 as an amendment to the Clean Air Act. These standards were dropped in federal court and are now being reevaluated. The subcommittee held the hearing with Kempf and other witnesses to discuss legislation to change these standards.

“We are just trying to make sure the end result is reasonable and affordable and that the costs make sense,” Kempf said Tuesday. “We have tried to make sure we are good stewards of the environment.”

Kempf said he hopes the EPA delays the standards proposed after a recent review. The EPA requested multiple times to extend its deadline for the review on the standards.

“When the EPA took comments on the standards, they were starting to realize some of those limits were too stringent,” Kempf said. “I think the EPA, to a certain effect, hurried through this review, and then when the staff asks for more time for a review, I think they should have it.”

The standards include specific rules for industrial boilers. Many universities, including Notre Dame, installed boilers in their power plants that comply with the standards set by the EPA in 2004.

Kempf said he feels this step is sufficient to provide a means for sustainable energy on campuses.

“These plants have proven to be an efficient, cost effective and environmentally-sound source of energy for universities,” Kempf’s written testimony stated. “[The] EPA’s final rules, however, impose unrealistic and very costly requirements that [the] EPA has not justified by corresponding environmental and health protection from reductions of hazardous air pollutants.”

Kempf said a change in these requirements would hurt many institutions because their costly equipment would no longer meet the requirements of the new standards. Notre Dame invested $20 million to meet the earlier standards, Kempf said.

“For $20 million, we could provide a full year of tuition for 500 students, or provide 125 students a full, four-year scholarship,” he said. “It was purchased and guaranteed to comply with the rule that was issued in 2004. It is uncertain that it will be able to achieve compliance with the rule that will now be proposed.”

Kempf said the equipment does make significant strides toward protecting the environment. He estimated the University reduced its emissions by 75 percent in recent years.

In his testimony, Kempf asked the committee to allow the EPA more time to review its rules before it sets new standards.

“I will stand by what my written statement was,” Kempf said. “But in general we were supporting the part of Congress looking to give the EPA more time to look at these regulations.”

John Walke, clean air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC), also testified as a witness in the hearing. His opinion, however, countered Kempf’s statements.

Walke said he felt Kempf’s testimony downplayed the health benefits of the standards.

“I was frankly flabbergasted that an official from Notre Dame would say something so … demonstratively untrue that public safety standards such as these would not have public health and safety benefits,” he said Monday.

Updating the requirements is a necessary step for environmental safety, Walke said.

“The [EPA] is over 10 years overdue in adopting clean air standards to reduce mercury and dozens of other toxic air pollutants like lead and arsenic and dioxins from a handful of industry sectors,” he said.

Walke said the standards set in 2004 were overturned in court because they violated the Clean Air Act.

“The Republicans were arguing to weaken and delay these standards,” he said. “But they will save tens of thousands of lives a year, as testified. I am taking the EPA’s projections for these sets of standards when I say they will save as many as 26,000 lives per year.”

Delaying the new standards by even one year will negate the benefits of the legislation, he said.

“The witnesses were arguing for those standards to be delayed by two or three or four years,” he said. “It would be a public health disaster.”

The Republican members of the committee will most likely propose legislation regarding the standards sometime in June, Walke said. This regulation is a necessary step for public safety.

“These standards will save more lives and avoid more mercury poisoning of children and avoid more cancer and asthma attacks than in the past 20 years,” he said.