EPA official: Carbon rules built on methods in use

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A top official from the Environmental Protection Agency told utility regulators from 14 states Wednesday that its new plan to target global warming by cutting power plants' carbon dioxide emissions is based on methods already in place across the nation, and not on untested technologies or ideas.

The agency's strategy is built around four existing approaches, including energy-efficiency programs and adoption of renewable energy such as wind or solar power, that states can use to come into compliance with the new carbon-cutting standard, said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation.

"This rule is absolutely built on the things that states, cities and utilities are already doing. This is not seeking to identify innovative, yet-to-be implemented or deployed types of technologies," she told members of the Mid-America Regulatory Conference.

McCabe told the group of utility and energy regulatory agencies from 14 states from Texas to Minnesota that all states will have the flexibility to tailor their carbon-reduction plans based on their strengths and move forward either solo or by joining with other states.

The new standard seeks to implement a 30 percent cut in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030 from 2005 levels. States have until June 2016 to submit plans for meeting their specific carbon reductions.

Michigan, which would be required to reduce its carbon output by 31.5 percent under the plan, might want to consider joining with other states for a regional approach to meeting the rule, said Greg White, a commissioner with the Michigan Public Service Commission.

But White said he's concerned Michigan might not be able to meet the June 2016 deadline if it opted to join other states in seeking what could hold a lower-cost option of compliance.

"That would require significant negotiations and they're not going to get done in a year, so we're very concerned about having enough time to meet that deadline," he said.

The EPA's plan, however, gives states the ability to seek a one-year deadline extension, while states that join with other states to draft multi-state plans can request a 2-year extension.

Doug Scott, chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission, said the new EPA rules are very complex, running more than 600 pages, and it will take states, regulators and utilities time to digest them and figure out a compliance approach.

"It's very complicated. It's a whole other language," he said.

McCabe said the EPA's new draft rule doesn't just aim to curtail emissions of carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas blamed for contributing to global warming — but would also significantly improve public health by reducing emissions of sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxide by hundreds of thousands of tons.

"This will bring immediate and local and regional health benefits to everybody in the country. That's a very important benefit we shouldn't lose sight of," she said.

McCabe said that if states fail to comply with the carbon reduction, the EPA has authority under the Clean Air Act to "come forward and do it for the state."

Under the plan, Indiana would have to curb its carbon emissions by 20 percent. Gov. Mike Pence has vowed to oppose the regulations, saying they would cost the state jobs and business growth and result in higher electricity rates. Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault said Wednesday the governor is considering a range of possible approaches to fighting the rule, including a possible lawsuits.

"We'll pursue all possible methods of pushing back against this and that may possibly include legal action, but we're looking at all our options," she said.

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