Environment Erie

Pennsylvania expects to hit Clean Power Plan deadline

Sep 18, 2015 | Posted in News

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Pennsylvania environmental regulators say they expect to meet the deadline for submitting a state plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and won't rely on a default solution written by the federal government.

Little else has been decided, though, regarding how the state will reduce the energy sector's emissions of the greenhouse gas by a third over the next 15 years while maintaining its status as an energy exporter.

“We're open to everything and attached to nothing,” state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley said Wednesday while outlining the process his agency will follow in gathering input to write the plan.

When the Environmental Protection Agency released the latest draft of its so-called Clean Power Plan last month, it gave the states the option of requesting a two-year extension to the September 2016 deadline for submitting a proposal to meet their individual reduction goals. Those that don't hit the deadline or refuse to comply will get a default plan.

The EPA included different approaches and measurements states can use, including whether to cut the overall mass of carbon emissions to a certain number of tons or the rate of emissions per megawatt hour of electrical generation.

“That's one of the most important decisions we must make,” Quigley said.

Choosing between a rate-based or mass-based path will dictate whether power plant owners are assigned emission allowances, or if they can trade in credits generated by plants that emit below a certain level, according to DEP policy director Patrick McDonnell. It also will determine whether and how Pennsylvania could coordinate efforts with surrounding states.

The EPA's plan is expected to further reduce the percentage of electricity generated by coal, which has diminished as plants fueled by coal close because of tougher regulations and competition from natural gas.

“We're in the process of developing our comments, but as the rule stands, it is incredibly difficult to see a path forward for coal in Pennsylvania,” said John Pippy, CEO of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance. “The issue with a rate-based approach is that the performance standards set for the existing electric generating units are not realistic with the current commercially tested and available technology. With the mass-based approach, it appears EPA will not be crediting Pennsylvania with the already achieved reductions between 2005 and 2012.”

Several coal-producing states have sued to stop the plan. Quigley said Pennsylvania would not follow suit, as state officials believe coal can maintain a presence in the fuel mix.

He expects to get data and feedback during a 60-day comment period that begins next week and includes 14 hearings around the state. A session will be held Sept. 21 at Carnegie Mellon University in Oakland.

“We are starting with a blank page here. We want to hear from all stakeholders on what the best path forward is,” Quigley said.
The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, which plans to file comments, questioned whether theDEP can meet the September deadline.

“Given the many outstanding legal questions about the rule, DEP's many questions about the grid, as well as the fact that EPA has allowed states slightly more time to file plans, we would urge DEP to slow down on filing a full plan in order to gain additional input and fully gage the impact any potential plan will have on energy prices, grid reliability and the economy,” government affairs manager Kevin Sunday said.

The department also will hear from lawmakers once it writes a final plan by next year. A state law passed in 2014 requires approval of the implementation plan by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. A budget impasse between those lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is in its third month.

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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