EPA proposal could phase out coal-fired power plants by implementing CO2 emission regulations
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06/02/14 Janelle Irwin
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:
Tags: environment, climate change, sea level rise, coal, TECO, Duke Energy, Sierra Club, EPA, Consumer Energy Alliance

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Emissions from TECO's Big Bend power plant in Apollo Beach can be seen on this clear, chilly day in January 2010.


photo by Seán Kinane.


The Environmental Protection Agency rolled out a plan Monday to cut carbon emissions by almost 40% in Florida and 30% nationally in the next 16 years. The Clean Power Plan is part of President Barack Obama’s initiative to reduce pollution linked to climate change. A spokesperson for the Sierra Club, Jenna Garland, says the proposed rule is a longtime coming.

“We are already experiencing the effects of a destabilized climate and here in Florida with water quality issues, water availability issues, flooding, storm surge. This is a huge problem that Floridians are already facing.”

The recent White House report on climate change points to man-made pollution directly linked to carbon emissions. That pollution comes largely from coal-fired power plants which environmentalists hope to phase out. According to the EPA, Florida currently gets about 20% of its energy from coal. But Garland says as of right now, there aren’t regulations on coal.

“Way back in 2008 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency has the ability to reduce carbon pollution coming from power plants. So, it’s taken this long to get a plan moving forward. There have been attempts in state houses and the U.S. Congress to look for a legislative solution, but those have faltered for one reason or another. I think one of the main problems is the lobbying power of dirty coal companies and fossil fuel companies.”

And consumers may have reason to get behind the proposed rule. EPA director Gina McCarthy announced the plan during a press conference in Washington Monday. She says it has two purposes – two make goals achievable and enforceable and:

“It’s laying out a national framework that gives states the flexibility to chart their own customized path on how they meet their goals.”

“And if states are smart about taking advantage of efficiency opportunities – and I know they are – when the effects of this plan are in place in 2030, average electricity bills will be 8% cheaper.”

But Michael Whatley, vice president of the pro-utility industry group, the Consumer Energy Alliance says the EPA rule would be too much of a jolt to energy companies who could have to switch from coal to other energy sources.

“Natural gas prices will go up because we’re going to be using more natural gas in the system and renewables are already significantly more expensive than other sources. So, if we rely to a significant extent on even more renewables in the system, then we’re going to see prices that are going to go up for the utilities and they’re going to pass those on to consumers.”

And Tampa Electric Company expects the same.

“These new proposed regulations, it is reasonable to expect that they will further increase the cost of electricity for our customers in the future.”

That’s TECO spokesperson Cherie Jacobs. She says Tampa Electric is already working hard to make its power plants cleaner.

“Over a ten year window, Tampa Electric invested $1.2 billion in environmental improvements at our power plants. This included things like, we changed the fuel of a coal fired power plant to natural gas – that’s our Bayside station – and we installed state of the art scrubbers on our Big Bend station. In fact, Big Bend is one the cleanest coal burning power plants in the country.”

TECO has two coal-fired plants in the Tampa Bay area – one in Tampa and one in Polk County. There are three other plants owned by other utility companies in Crystal River, Lakeland and Spring Hill. The White House climate change report named the Tampa Bay area as one of the most threatened by sea level rise. Hurricane season just kicked off this weekend and even a weak storm could leave many coastal and low-lying areas under water. The Sierra Club’s Garland says that could have a detrimental impact on the area’s bread and butter tourism industry.

“The economic costs of that are just substantial. Entire communities will be forced to locate. They may not be able to sell their property or recoup the value of that property.”

A statement from the White House also points to health issues as another reason to get behind the proposed EPA rule. It says the percentage of Americans with asthma has more than doubled over the past 30-years and points to climate change as a risk factor for those people. The EPA’s McCarthy made that same point.

“Parker Frey – he’s ten years old – and he struggled with severe asthma his entire life. His mom said that despite his challenges, Parker is a tough, active kid and a really good hockey player, but sometimes, she said, the air is too dangerous for him to play outside.”

A Tampa Bay area doctor, Lynn Ringenberg says she saw kids with asthma when she first started practicing medicine, but not nearly as many as she sees now.

“I see many kids in a week with very significant asthma, younger kids, difficult to control asthma. I see a lot more kids today with learning disabilities which I just didn’t see 25-30 years ago – an increase in autism. Now, I don’t have a direct relationship to the environment for these things, but genetics don’t change that quickly and so, I think, and there is a lot of research out there, that a lot of these things are caused by our environment.”

The plan has to go through a review process that includes public comment and input from utilities. That could take as much as a year.

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