New EPA carbon emissions plan affects states differently

The number and type of power plants employed to generate electricity in your state will determine how drastic a change the state you live in…
New EPA carbon emissions plan affects states differently

FILE — This April 28, 2010 file photo shows the Colstrip Steam Electric Station, a coal-fired power plant in Colstrip, Mont. With an abundant supply of hydroelectric power, Washington state currently gets less than 14 percent of its total electricity from burning coal and Gov. Jay Inslee wants to take that down to zero over time. Most of the “coal by wire” electricity imported into the state comes from the Colstrip power plant in eastern Montana and the Jim Bridger plant in Wyoming. (AP Photo/Matt Brown, File)

The number and type of power plants employed to generate electricity in your state will determine how drastic a change the state you live in will have to implement in order to comply with President Obama’s mandate to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, all part of the Clean Power Plan.

Because each state has a different number and type of power plants—and hence different amounts of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere—each state has its own emissions reduction targets in order to support the nationwide goal. The EPA focused on the excess of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere because it’s one of the four greenhouse gases, which have been linked to climate change and the gradual warming of our planet.

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Though the plan is still just a proposal, if passed it will be one of the most ambitious pieces of climate change legislation to date. That passage is not assured, however, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the mining industry, and numerous lawmakers from coal-producing states have already come out against the Clean Power Plan.

Targeting power plants

According to the EPA and the Obama administration, the new plan will improve public health, reduce air pollution, and “spur a clean energy economy.”

Roughly 40 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. come from power plants, so if implemented, the plan has the potential to significantly change the face of U.S. power. That’s especially true in the case of coal facilities, which together with natural gas plants account for 38 percent of those emissions, as reported by Vox.

Obama has suggested that by setting carbon dioxide emission reduction goals, those in the energy industry and beyond will be motivated to find new means of producing energy, which in turn will create new jobs.

EPA administrator Gina McCarthy spoke along the same lines when introducing the Clean Power Plan: “This is not just about disappearing polar bears or melting ice caps…This is about protecting our health and our homes. This is about protecting local economies and jobs.”

According to Vox, the proposal outlines several means by which states’ power plants can offset their carbon emissions, including increasing plant efficiency, shifting electric utilities from coal to natural gas, incorporating renewable energy such as wind or solar into power grids, or joining cap-and-trade systems that charge companies for emissions.

If the proposal goes into effect in 2015, states would have a year to come up with a plan for those reductions.

The Four Corners Power Plant in Wyoming is on Indian land.

FILE- This April 2006, file photo shows The Four Corners Power Plant near the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico. While the nearby San Juan Generating Station will factor into New Mexico’s proposed goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one-third, the Four Corners Power Plant – which is located within the Navajo Nation – won’t. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

Disparate state goals

Along with the Clean Power Plan explanation, the EPA released a list of exactly what percentage of carbon dioxide emission cuts each state would need to make by 2030.

The state goals are expressed in carbon intensity, measured by pounds per megawatt hour, rather than an absolute emissions number. Each goal is unique, taking into account the state’s current emissions intensity, its reliance on fossil fuels overall, and how easy it will be to reduce emissions.

Looking just at the percentages of carbon intensity reduction, Washington and Arizona are hit the hardest: the former must reduce its carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour by 72 percent, while the latter must reduce that number by 52 percent.

However, with Washington’s high reliance on hydroelectric power, their strategy for reduction will be far different—and potentially easier—than states on the other side of the country, such as Kentucky. While Kentucky is only required to reduce emissions by 18 percent, that will hit coal plants extremely hard, since the state has one of the highest carbon intensity rates in the U.S. With the vast majority of Kentucky’s energy industry reliant on coal, the state will need to make a significant shift into alternative energy and efficient power plants to meet its goal.

Opponents 0f clean energy

Unsurprisingly, the Clean Power Plan isn’t making everyone happy.

Lawmakers from coal states, in particular, have argued that the legislation will cost the U.S. numerous jobs, even as the EPA and President Obama argue the opposite. Indiana Senator Dan Coats was quoted in the Courier-Journal, criticizing the proposal and saying that the president was “putting our economic well-being, grid reliability and American jobs at risk.”

Over the next 120 days, the EPA will gather comments on the proposal, canvassing electric companies, environmentalists and others. They’ll then create a final regulation proposal, which would take effect in June of 2015 if passed.

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