The president’s plan to cut power plant emissions has sparked a debate over environmental issues and the economy.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on Monday unveiled the proposal for regulating power plant carbon emissions — a move some believe will stifle the economy, but one President Barack Obama hopes will shrink health care costs and curb natural disasters.
The changes likely will not have much affect on Northeastern Pennsylvania, as the region’s two plants are poised to meet the proposed federal expectations. But Pennsylvania as a whole could see significant changes with about 40 percent of its electricity generated by coal.
Local reaction to the 645-page document was mixed, with some pro-business advocates speaking out against it. The plan outlines how states should set standards to reduce the nation’s power plant carbon dioxide emissions to 30 percent less than 2005 amounts by the year 2030.
During a news conference in Washington, D.C., which was broadcast live on the EPA’s website, McCarthy said the plan sets “achievable and enforceable goals to cut carbon emissions” and also gives states flexibility to design their own plans in order to reach them.
Carbon dioxide is a known greenhouse gas, and most scientists agree human use of fossil fuels is contributing to climate change.
While Obama does not need congressional approval to enforce these policies, some in Congress have vowed to block the effort. And in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett, as well as U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, decried the EPA’s proposal.
In a strongly worded news release, Barletta said that while he values a clean environment, he believes it is wrong to single out a one part of the energy sector as the “perennial villain.”
“This is yet another attempt by the president to circumvent the people’s representatives and enact policies he was unable to get through Congress,” Barletta said. “This is nothing more than imposing the expensive and job-killing cap-and-trade legislation on consumers through the back door since Congress has killed it repeatedly.”
Corbett cited a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report that says the president’s regulations will increase electricity costs each year and cut about 224,000 jobs annually.
But Obama and McCarthy attempted to get ahead of the naysayers and argued cleaner energy will incite innovation and lead to more jobs in new energy markets, as well as diversify the country’s energy portfolio to help lower costs to consumers.
Jay Sweeney, chairman of the Green Party of Pennsylvania, said the proposed rules are a step in the right direction, but weak compared to what they could be.
The EPA’s plan also has softer recommendations that states should seek to grow renewable energy sources.
Pennsylvania now gets about 2 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and hydroelectric generation. The EPA suggests that by 2030 Pennsylvania should get 16 percent of its power from renewable sources.
“I really think by 2030, we should be doing a lot more,” Sweeney said.
He said in light of obvious climate change, the country should be diving head-first into renewable energy development.
Region leads curve
There are two high-volume electricity generation plants in Northeastern Pennsylvania. PPL operates the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station, a nuclear power plant, and UGI Energy Services operates the Hunlock Power Station. Both are along Route 11 on either side of Shickshinny.
Nuclear power plants have no carbon emissions, so the Susquehanna plant is a non-issue.
The Hunlock plant in 2011 converted from aging coal-fired generators to natural gas generators, and at first glance, UGI Government Affairs Director Larry Godlasky said it seems the company is already working within the proposed guidelines.
“Based on our preliminary analysis, we do not think our operations in Hunlock Creek are going to be affected by this,” Godlasky said.
While they were planning the conversion, UGI officials had little notion the president would seek to enforce these standards, but Godlasky said other requirements had made the plant, which was built in the 1940s, expensive to operate.
“It made continuing the operation of that plant untenable based on a number of environmental requirements,” he said.
Marcellus gas used
UGI now pipes natural gas, much of which is produced in the Marcellus Shale region, to the Hunlock station, which has more than doubled its production capacity since the switch.
UGI officials could not immediately quantify its change in emissions since switching to natural gas. UGI and Susquehanna are both part of the PJM Mid-Atlantic power grid, so it’s also difficult to say where the locally produced electricity goes.
Natural gas creates about 40 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than coal for equivalent power generated.
UGI also has part ownership of a Cambria County power plant, The Conemaugh Power Station, which has a capacity 13 times greater than the Hunlock station, but has been ranked one of the dirtiest coal-fired plants in the nation.
While many power generators and labor groups are crying out against the effort, Godlasky said he is confident UGI will meet the proposed standards given the EPA’s promise for flexibility.
“There’s a number of ways to meet the compliance plans that the EPA set forth,” Godlasky said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.