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Coal will remain vital source of PA energy despite new federal plan, trade group says

A new EPA rule will tighten rules on power-plant emissions.

Emma Lee / WHYY

A new EPA rule will tighten rules on power-plant emissions.

Pennsylvania coal suppliers said Monday that the fuel will remain an important component of the state’s energy mix despite the federal government’s fresh attempt to drive down carbon emissions with its Clean Power Plan.

“Both the Wolf administration and the Pennsylvania legislature have repeatedly stated that coal use will remain a critical component of any blueprint for a state strategy to comply with the federal carbon emissions rule,” said John Pippy, CEO of the PA Coal Alliance.

“Utilities and grid operators nationwide have testified on the importance of maintaining coal’s place in the energy mix of a baseload supplier to safeguard against rate spikes and blackouts,” Pippy said in a statement.

He said the continued prominence of coal in the energy mix is especially important in Pennsylvania as one of the biggest U.S. electricity generators and exporters.

“We’re looking forward to working with our policymakers to ensure coal continues to supply the Commonwealth and surrounding states with low-cost electricity,” he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday tightened carbon-emission standards on existing power plants, saying they must be reduced by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, or 9 percent more than the agency first proposed.

In its Clean Power Plan, the agency said that states can act individually or together to meet the emissions goal, and that they could use renewables, energy efficiency, carbon capture and storage, or nuclear power to help meet their targets. They can also use emissions-trading programs such as cap and trade, as well as demand-side energy-efficiency programs.

States are being given more time and more incentives to comply. State plans are due by September 2016 but that can be extended for up to two years for states that need more time. Compliance is expected to start in 2022 – two years later than the 2020 target originally set, and will be phased in until 2030.

By 2030, renewables will account for 28 percent of electricity generated nationally, up from 22 percent in the proposed rule.

It also provides more incentives for states to comply, especially in low-income communities, and requires states to ensure grid reliability by writing reliability into their plans.

“The final Clean Power Plan sets flexible and achievable standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, 9 percent more ambitious than the proposal,” the EPA said in a fact sheet released early Monday before the plan’s formal announcement.

“By setting carbon pollution reduction goals for power plants and enabling states to develop tailored implementation plans to meet those goals, the Clean Power Plan is a strong, flexible framework,” the EPA said.

The White House argued that Pennsylvania and nearby northeastern states will benefit from the cut in carbon emissions through better air quality, fewer heat waves and a reduced rate of sea-level rise.

It said Pennsylvania’s power plants emitted 109 million metric tons of carbon in 2013 and a reduction would help to reduce the rate of asthma, which affects 9.6 percent of adults and 10.2 percent of children.

In a state-specific analysis of the power-plant plan, the White House also said that lower carbon emissions would reduce the likelihood of flooding through heavy downpours and flooding. The amount of precipitation falling in such events in the Northeast increased by more than 70 percent between 1958 and 2010, it said.

A carbon reduction would lessen the chances of flooding for 1.6 million Northeast residents who live within the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 100-year flood zone, and amid one of the world’s most vulnerable areas to sea-level rise, the White House said.

As many environmental groups welcomed the plan, the National Mining Association attacked the program and said it has filed a request with the EPA to stay the rule while the courts consider its lawfulness.

“EPA’s final Clean Power Plan reflects political expediency, not reality for supplying the nation with low cost reliable power,” said NMA president Hal Quinn, in a statement. “Left in place are targets for replacing affordable energy with costly energy. These will burden Americans with increasingly high-costs for an essential service and a less reliable electric grid for delivering it.

“Postponing the initial deadline merely forces ratepayers into steeper cost increases in later years than originally proposed. American households and businesses will be forced to accept higher electricity rates in exchange for what EPA admits are negligible environmental gains,” Quinn said.

Despite the defiance of coal’s supporters, Alpha Natural Resources, an owner of two southwest Pennsylvania mines and operations in four other states, said Monday it is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing an “unprecedented period of distress” because of competition from cheap natural gas, low prices for coal, and increasing government regulation.

In recent weeks, Consol Energy announced 470 job cuts, including 180 at its coal mines in Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, some environmental groups welcomed the plan as an indication that the U.S. is getting serious about cutting carbon emissions ahead of this December’s world climate meeting in Paris.

Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, said the federal plan will show the U.S. is serious about cutting carbon emissions.

“The Clean Power Plan should reassure international partners that the US Administration is determined to deliver the 26-28% emissions reductions promised for 2025,” Steer said. “Our analysis suggests that this rule can be implemented without technical or financial impediment, and in a manner that is likely to promote more, not less, economic prosperity.”


This story has been updated to include White House comments on Pennsylvania and the Alpha Natural Resources bankruptcy.


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