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Pollution plan may have big impact in state

By: CitizensVoice.com |

The sweeping Obama administration plan to limit carbon dioxide pollution from electric power plants could have significant impacts on Pennsylvania air quality and industries, experts said Monday.

Gov. Tom Corbett was critical of the plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming, but one major utility said the reductions appear to be doable.

The plan, announced Monday, gives each state some flexibility in how it makes significant reductions in carbon emissions by 2030. About 40 percent of Pennsylvania’s electricity comes from coal-fired power plants, and the state is also the fourth-leading producer of coal in the nation.

The proposal could bring much cleaner air to Pennsylvania, but coal-fired power plants would be forced to spend far more money on reducing pollution. The state’s more than 30 coal-fired power plants are the source of about one-third of its electricity, according information from the Electric Power Generation Association.

Corbett, a Republican, said he is concerned the Obama administration’s plan will result in the shutdown of hundreds of coal-fired power plants across the country. Nearly 63,000 Pennsylvania jobs are supported by the coal industry, he said.

“Anything that seeks to or has the effect of shutting down coal-fired power plants is an assault on Pennsylvania jobs, consumers, and those citizens who rely upon affordable, abundant domestic energy,” Corbett said in a statement Monday.

Corbett also said that Pennsylvania is doing its fair share to reduce carbon emissions.

A local power plant is already there. The proposed stricter federal regulations won’t affect the UGI Energy Services Hunlock power station on U.S. Route 11 in Hunlock Township.

The facilities primarily targeted in the EPA “Clean Power Plan” proposal are coal-fired. The Hunlock Township plant, UGI’s last coal-burning facility in Northeastern Pennsylvania — a region once famous for anthracite coal mining — converted to natural gas in early 2011.

UGI spokesman Joe Swope said the Hunlock plant was an older facility, in operation since the 1920s, and “UGI extended its expected life multiple times before it finally closed” in May 2010.

Besides the plant’s obsolescence, federal emissions requirements were becoming more stringent, and it became a matter of whether it was economical to continue burning coal to generate electricity, even before the new standards were in place. The EPA can fine power plants for violations of the Clean Air Act.

The additional factor that spurred the conversion was the abundance of natural gas from wells in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Asked if the company is ahead of its time in making the switch, Swope replied, “I would say we were on the cutting edge of a trend that’s likely to continue.”

The Environmental Protection Agency proposal suggests that Pennsylvania cut 2012 carbon emissions by about a third by 2030. Some other states that use more coal would have to make even greater cuts.

The proposal sets off a complex regulatory process in which each state will determine how to meet targets set by the EPA, then submit those plans for approval. Power companies could achieve reductions in several ways, from improving energy efficiency to encouraging lower-carbon sources of power, such as wind or natural gas.

“I’m delighted that the EPA rules have the flexibility built into them to include other low-pollution sources, and are not limited at the power plant fence,” said Jay Apt, an electric power expert at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Apt said coal could still be a significant source of power in Pennsylvania if the industry embraces new technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Pennsylvania environmental groups welcomed the plan.

“This will put us on the path of meeting the science-based reductions necessary” to avoid even more extreme global warming impacts, said Adam Garber, field director for PennEnvironment.

“This is a great day for the environment,” said Christina Simeone, director of the PennFuture Energy Center. But Simeone noted that a surge of cheaper natural gas from the Marcellus Shale was already pushing power companies to shut down some coal plants.

“The reality is coal is being outcompeted. Gas is cheaper, and gas is cleaner,” Simeone said.

Pittsburgh will host one of four national public hearings on the plan. The hearing is scheduled for July 31.