Utah assails Obama's Clean Power Plan

Published: Sunday, March 1 2015 4:50 p.m. MST

This aerial view looking southeast shows Rocky Mountain Power's Lakeside 1 and Lakeside 2 natural gas fired power plants in Vineyard, Utah County. This photo was taken when Lakeside 2 was under construction. The EPA's Clean Power Plan contemplates a shift from coal-fired power plants to natural gas powered plants like these. However, Utah points out that these plants are located in non-attainment areas, while Utah's traditional power plants are located in rural areas.

Photographic Solutions Inc., Courtesy Rocky Mountain Power

SALT LAKE CITY — President Obama's Clean Power Plan mandating carbon reductions from existing power plants across the country has been assailed by Utah and other states as an unprecedented attack on coal that falls outside the scope of the Clean Air Act.

And even as states scramble to point out the plan is unworkable, illegal, costly and counter to its objective to reduce pollution, multiple state legislatures — particularly in coal-rich states — already have moved to undercut the federal rule, which is due out this year.

With just two weeks left in the 2015 Utah Legislature, anything is likely to happen as far as the Beehive State following the lead of states such as Kentucky, Virginia or Pennsylvania.

Those states passed laws giving their legislatures the power to veto any state-crafted carbon emission reduction plans, and other states such as West Virginia, Montana and Minnesota want their lawmakers to have the ability to sign off on any carbon reduction plan before it is submitted to the federal government.

Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, is running HJR19, which declares the Utah Legislature's support of the state's position asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw the rule and let Congress and the states reduce power plant emissions. The Utah House of Representatives passed the measure on Tuesday, and it now goes before the Senate.

"As a state, we are really, really worried about this," Handy said, adding that he has not heard of any legislative plan to go so far as to invoke veto power on planned carbon reductions.

"I think we have a reasoned, well thought out response in our remarks to the EPA," he added.

The Clean Power Plan assigns each state specific targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels, with a national goal to achieve a 30 percent reduction by 2030.

Under the proposed rule unveiled last June, states will be given a one-year deadline to come up with their own state implementation plans on how those reductions are achieved, a tight turnaround that on its own makes compliance problematic, according to state air quality regulators.

The angst over the Clean Power Plan is wide and deep. Critics say the plan will cost the country more than $73 billion a year, slay hundreds of thousands of mining and manufacturing jobs, and drive up electricity rates for consumers. A dozen states have already filed suit to stop the new regulations from being adopted.

Utah Gov Gary Herbert, in a letter to the EPA last December, called the scope of the rule unprecedented because of its potential impacts to the country's vast and complex electricity generating system as a whole, regulation that he says is beyond the scope of the EPA and Clean Air Act.

"Such a dramatic expansion of Clean Air Act authority warrants clear direction and clear legal authorization from Congress, which has not yet been granted," Herbert wrote.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Herbert and a contingent of other members of the Western Governors Association met with EPA administrator Gina McCarthy in Washington, D.C., to once again reiterate their concerns and ask that the rule be abandoned.

Like many other states, Utah believes the EPA arrived at unrealistic targets based on flawed assumptions. How much states have to reduce those carbon dioxide emissions was derived from a complex formula that looked at each state's volume of emissions against the backdrop of its in-state generation of electricity.

The EPA gave Utah a target rate of 1,322 pounds of carbon dioxide, or a reduction of roughly 27 percent. Citing an analysis by the National Economic Research Associates, state officials said Utah will be among 14 states that will incur peak electricity price increases of more than 20 percent if the rule goes into effect.

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