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Ohio facing drastic changes in power plants under Obama emissions plan

Scott Miller, CE3 Director, quoted

Laura Arenschield, Jessica Wehrman & Dan Gearino, The Columbus Dispatch Jun 3, 2014

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Ohio facing drastic changes in power plants under Obama emissions plan

Scott Miller, CE3 Director, quoted

Laura Arenschield, Jessica Wehrman & Dan Gearino, The Columbus Dispatch June 3, 2014

Power plant photo credit The Columbus Dispatch

WASHINGTON — The era of Ohio’s reliance on coal-fired power plants, which provide cheap energy but spew millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, could be drawing to a close.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed sweeping new rules yesterday that would require states to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels within 16 years.

The Obama administration says the changes would clean the air, improve the health of residents and help curb climate change. Opponents, however, say the cuts would kill jobs and lead to higher energy costs for consumers.

The rules leave room for states to decide how best to make those cuts, but the rules almost certainly would change how people power their lives in Ohio, where coal generates about two-thirds of electricity.

The rules probably would mean the end of some coal-fired power plants, and efficiency overhauls for others. They also could mean more electricity from wind or solar energy for Ohioans.

Ohio burned more coal than all but five other states last year, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. The state routinely leads the nation in power-plant emissions.

Republican politicians and coal-industry advocates say the plan would mean lost jobs in coal-heavy areas such as Appalachian Ohio, and they argue that it would lead to higher costs for families to heat, cool and power homes nationwide.

“The president’s plan is nuts; there’s really no more succinct way to describe it,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester.

But the proposal might not be as taxing as industry leaders first believed: Ohio’s power plants already have cut their greenhouse-gas emissions by 16.5 percent from the 2005 levels, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The Obama administration pointed to data showing that seven of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998. Most scientists agree that climate change is a global problem with major costs.

The administration said climate change has spurred weather disasters that cost the economy more than $100 billion in 2012. It says climate change also has spurred innumerable and growing health-care problems, including an increased rate of asthma that now affects 1 in 10 children in the country.

When EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the agency’s plan to set state-specific goals for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, she said she recently visited the Cleveland Clinic, where she met 10-year-old Parker Frey, an active boy who has severe asthma.

McCarthy said Parker’s mother sometimes keeps him inside because of air quality. “In the United States of America, no parent should ever have that worry,” McCarthy said.

In Ohio, power plants reduced their carbon-dioxide emissions by 13 percent from 2011 to 2012 alone, according to the U.S. EPA. But the new rule would mandate even more-stringent cuts.

Christian Palich, manager of government affairs for the Ohio Coal Association, said the new rules would tax an already-strained electrical grid.

“With winters like we had last year, it’s important that we supply energy to folks,” Palich said. “We’re committed to new technologies, but we also think it’s just a step too far.”

Environmental organizations celebrated the proposed rules, but some said they don’t go far enough.

The EPA will accept comments on the proposal and will hold four public hearings during the week of July 28, in Denver, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh. The agency is to finalize standards in June 2015.

McCarthy said she expects that the rules would spur entrepreneurs to try to meet the demand for cleaner energy.

She said that over the past 40 years, the EPA has worked to cut air pollution by 70 percent while the economy has “more than tripled.”

And she predicted that the plan would deliver benefits of as much as $90 billion, including electricity bills becoming, on average, 8 percent cheaper because of energy efficiency.

Columbus-based American Electric Power, which has eight coal-fired power plants in Ohio, has said it plans to close three and is determining whether the proposed rules might force it to shut even more.

“This is really an important day for the power industry,” said Scott Miller, director of energy and environmental programs at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. “ The way we generate electricity is undergoing a sea change.”

Although power companies might not like the rules, they probably are pleased to see that 2005 is the baseline, Miller said.

“You probably do have to celebrate if you are in the business, because you are looking at a much-higher carbon profile in 2005 than you were in 2014,” he said.

In many ways, the federal rules are moving in the opposite direction of a bill passed by the Ohio House last week. Gov. John Kasich said he intends to sign Senate Bill 310, which would put a two-year freeze on annual increases in standards that utilities must meet for renewable energy and energy efficiency, and make it easier for utilities to meet the standards when the increases resume.

Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler said in a statement that state officials are trying to determine what the federal rules would mean for Ohio.

For the original story, visit: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/national_world/2014/06/02/obamas-goal-30-cut-in-co-pollution.html.