Indiana's top environmental regulator told a legislative panel Wednesday he's concerned tough, new federal pollution standards could make it nearly impossible for utilities to build new coal-fired power plants in the state.
The commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Thomas Easterly, told lawmakers that the pending federal regulations will essentially rule out coal-fired power plants that currently generate much of the state's electricity.
State Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, said during Wednesday's meeting of the Environmental Quality Service Council in Indianapolis that inexpensive electricity has long made Indiana a center for manufacturing and the state risks losing key industries if that advantage goes away.
But Democratic state Sen. Jean Breaux of Indianapolis said pollution from coal-fired power plants harms Hoosiers' health. She said those effects are harder to see than a factory closing but likely cost more in the long run, The Times of Munster reported.
The Obama administration announced in September it was pressing ahead with tough requirements to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, despite protests from industry and Republicans that it would dim coal's future. The administration said global warming attributed to carbon pollution from industries is linked to public health problems, disease and extreme weather.
New federal proposals would set the first national limits on heat-trapping pollution from future power plants and move the nation to cleaner sources of energy.
The EPA said the rule changes would put it in a leadership position in battling climate change, but admitted the regulations would have no notable impact on carbon emissions.
Easterly said Indiana has made significant progress improving its air and water quality during the past decade. He said that nearly the entire state is now in compliance with federal pollution limits.
"The air is getting cleaner," Easterly said. "We are making great progress."
He said LaPorte County still does not meet air quality standards because of Chicago pollution blowing across Lake Michigan, but the levels are near the allowable maximum.