New carbon emissions rules provide flexibility in Missouri, Kansas

06/02/2014 10:46 PM

06/03/2014 2:23 PM

The federal government’s ambitious and politically charged plan to slash carbon emissions that cause global warming has given a bit of a break to Missouri and Kansas.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules, unveiled Monday, by 2030 would cut carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s coal-fired power plants by an average of 30 percent nationwide from their 2005 levels. But the far-reaching plan contains a lot of flexibility for states in how that would be done, and many states’ targets are lower than 30 percent.

“The glue that holds this plan together — and the key to making it work — is that each state’s goal is tailored to its own circumstances, and states have the flexibility to reach their goal in whatever way works best for them,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a speech Monday.

Under the proposal, Missouri would have to reduce its carbon emissions by 21 percent by 2030, while Kansas would cut emissions by 23 percent.

Missouri and Kansas are more dependent on coal than many other states, and the targets were based on what states could reasonably be expected to do to meet the national mandate. Those targets in Missouri and Kansas would still represent large reductions because of the high levels of carbon emissions in this region.

On the other hand, Georgia has already cut its carbon emissions by more than 30 percent, but that progress doesn’t mean less is expected of its utilities, according to the Georgetown Climate Center, a nonprofit associated with Georgetown University. Georgia, under the proposed EPA regulations, would have to slash carbon emissions by more than 40 percent.

The rules give states a wide menu of policy options to achieve the pollution cuts. Rather than immediately shutting down coal plants, states may be able to develop plans that make plants more efficient so they burn less coal. In addition, natural gas — which is cleaner than coal — renewable energy and energy efficiency will play major roles in the state plans.

The proposal represents the boldest single step yet by the U.S. to fight global warming. Leading up to Monday’s announcement, the Obama administration has said the effort would both boost the economy and cut health problems such as asthma and heart attacks.

President Barack Obama, in a conference call Monday with public health officials, predicted critics would contend anew that the emission limits would crush jobs and damage the economy

“What we’ve seen every time is that these claims are debunked when you actually give workers and businesses the tools and the incentives they need to innovate,” he said.

Environmentalists applauded the proposal, which they said was needed to combat global warming.

“We’ve got to do something,” said John Hickey, head of the Missouri Sierra Club.

Emissions from power plants have fallen 10 percent to 15 percent from 2005 to last year, mainly because more electricity was generated with natural gas and renewable energy. That means the actual reduction from current levels will be 20 percent or less nationwide.

The EPA estimates the changes would lead to $90 billion in climate and health benefits, and cost utilities up to $8.8 billion annually. But more accurate predictions might not be known until states decide how to reach their emissions targets — a process that could take several years.

Experts expect the EPA plan to draw lawsuits, which would be likely to delay implementation of the regulations. Obama, who failed to push a sweeping climate change bill through Congress in his first term, used his executive authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to push his regulations.

As the president expected, Republicans said the regulations would cost jobs and raise electricity prices.

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri blasted the plan, saying the EPA regulations on coal-fired power plants could cost businesses more than $50 billion a year.

“I will fight the president and his administration every step of the way to stop this unprecedented power grab,” he said, “and protect Missourians, who rely on coal for 80 percent” of their electricity generation.

Kansas, which uses coal to generate 61 percent of its electricity, last week cleared the way for a new coal-fired power plant in western Kansas. It’s unclear how the EPA’s proposed regulation rule would affect the plant, but if built, it probably would require the state to develop additional renewable energy and have more energy efficiency to offset the plant’s emissions.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, said, “Today’s news that the EPA will be imposing even more expensive regulations on Kansas utilities, and doing so without approval from Congress, is very troubling as it further disrupts the balance that must be achieved between protecting the environment and growing the economy.”

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, said he was reviewing the proposed rules “with a particular focus on making sure these proposed rules provide the flexibility Missouri needs to ensure consumers and businesses have access to reliable, affordable and sustainable energy from a diverse portfolio of sources now and in the future.”

State agencies that compile plans to meet federal air quality regulations will be charged with shaping the new carbon policies.

The Missouri Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, said it might participate at some level, too. “I suspect we will have some role,” said Robert Kenney, the commission’s chairman.

He said he was glad to see flexibility in the time given to states. The proposed rule is set to become final in June 2015, and then states will have a year to shape their plan, with an option of an additional year.

Spokesmen from the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates that state’s utilities, could not be reached for comment.

Topeka-based Westar Energy, Kansas’ largest electric utility, said it was still reviewing the proposed plan, but one of the things it would be looking for is the potential for rate increases. Kansas City Power & Light Co., which serves both states and last week announced an expanded energy efficiency program in Missouri, said it also was studying the proposed rule. KCP&L said it was premature to talk about possibly higher electric prices.

The Natural Resources Defense Council said consumers will actually see electric prices decline as energy efficiency reduces the amount of electricity used. The environmental group picked Kansas City as one of 10 cities where it hopes to boost energy efficiency.

The environmental group now has three employees and is working with the city of Kansas City and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce to reduce the amount of electricity used in large buildings.

“There’s a huge upside” in how much energy could be conserved, said Ashok Gupta, a program director and senior energy economist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Associated Press and the New York Times contributed to this story.

To reach Steve Everly, call 816-234-4455 or send email to severly@kcstar.com.

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