Clean Power Plan sets first-ever carbon rules


Supporters say it will save money, help reduce health disparities

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new Clean Power Plan announced earlier this month calls for a 32 percent reduction below 2005 levels in carbon pollution from U.S. power plants by 2030. Key features of the plan, which was first proposed by the Obama administration in 2014, include that states will “develop and implement tailored plans” and provisions that require states to engage with low-income and communities of color in developing their plans.

(l-r) Shiranthi Goonathikaka, Cynthia Harris, Karen Monahan, Elizabeth Zalanga (a participants in the Minnesota Public Radio News Young Reporters Series) and Joshua Stewart.
(l-r) Shiranthi Goonathikaka, Cynthia Harris, Karen Monahan, Elizabeth Zalanga (a participant in the Minnesota Public Radio News Young Reporters Series)  and Joshua Stewart.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and White House Senior Advisor Brian Deese held an August 2 on-the-record media conference call with reporters, including the MSR, prior to President Barack Obama’s announcement at the White House.

The plan is an “all-out push” by the president to address climate change along with making “the United States an international leader in [addressing] climate change,” stated Deese.

“We are giving states…the time and flexibility” to devise rules that fit their respective areas, added McCarthy. “A plan in Ohio [may be] different than a plan in New Mexico.” She also pointed out that the new plan standards are “reachable and achievable for each state.”

However, McCarthy pointed out that “the same tired claims” are being made by some utilities, who say the plan is too costly to implement. She countered that there are $4-$7 in benefits for every $1 of cost.

An Xcel Energy spokesman told the MSR that the plan is still under review by company officials. But a release statement by President-CEO Ben Fowke, who was at the White House during the announcement, noted, “It will take time to thoroughly review and assess the full impact of the rules. We appreciate the EPA’s willingness to work with stakeholders in developing this groundbreaking and complex set of regulations.”

Minnesota utilities are required to factor pollution costs into their energy planning, but according to Karen Monahan of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal to Clean Energy Campaign, these costs have not been updated in 20 years. “There is new science…on how pollution from these power plants are impacting society,” noted Monahan. “What does that mean and how do they calculate that?”

A 2013 Sierra Club report, “Health & Environmental Costs of Electricity Generation in Minnesota,” summarized that burning fossil fuels costs Minnesota at least $2 billion each year in environmental and health costs. It estimated that between $58 million and $257 million is “the real cost of pollution,” which includes emergency room visits and medical bills as well as permanent impacts on the environment.

“We pay with our health and our pocketbooks,” said Monahan. “That’s not fair.”

Utilities officials complaining how costly it is for them bothers her as well, continued Monahan: “It’s really hard to hear energy producers talk about equity and fairness. When I hear these words — equity and fairness — coming from millionaires, it baffles me.”

A new state Clean Power Plan would help consumers save “an average of $8 a month” in electric bills, said Monahan. It also will help reduce health disparities, such as the high rate of asthma among Black children. The EPA estimates that new carbon pollution limits “will prevent up to 150,000 asthma attacks and up to 6,000 premature deaths annually.

“We finally have their first-ever federal carbon rule that, for the first time, the coal plants cannot spew any amount of carbon that they want to,” stated Monahan.

But Shiranthi Goonathikaka of St. Paul, a Spellman College senior, asks, “Will we be able to see [this] reduction?” She, Cynthia Harris of Detroit, and Joshua Stewart of St. Louis Park all were summer interns at the Sierra Club.

Stewart, who is a College of St. Scholastica senior, pointed out that everyone, especially communities of color, should be fully aware of and concerned about the environmental impacts.

“What we put in our air affects us,” said Harris, who’s also a senior at Spellman.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will hold a public hearing to update the health and environmental costs of pollutants on Wednesday, August 26, at 2 pm at the Minnesota PUC office, 121 7th Place East, St. Paul.

“We want to pack that room,” said Monahan.


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