Guest Column: Where is plan to tackle challenges of carbon emissions
This week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama Administration unveiled the "Clean Power Plan proposal, which for the first time cuts carbon pollution from existing power plants" This plan proposes slashing allowable levels of Carbon Dioxide emissions from fossil fuel fired power plants by 2030.
Everyone wants cleaner air; everyone understands the benefits of limiting greenhouse emissions. That being said, it is important that we understand what this could mean to Utah and especially Utah's energy producing counties.
Seventy Eight percent of Utah's power comes from coal-fired power plants. This is twice the U.S. average for power generation sources in the states. What this means is any additional regulatory requirements will have twice the effect in Utah that the same regulations would cause in average states.
The pollution situation is very complicated. For example Utah is number 32 in the ranking of the states for CO2 emissions accounting for 1.19 percent of US CO2 emissions. In Utah, four of the top 10 sources of all pollutants are coal-fired power plants, however the account for only 3.6 percent of the total pollution emitted by those same top 10 sources.
None of those power plants are located along the Wasatch Front; they are located in Emery, Uintah and Millard Counties. Their effect on Wasatch Front pollution is minimal.
The Wasatch Front pollution comes mostly from automobile emissions and from the remaining top polluting industries, which are located along the Wasatch front, from Utah to Weber Counties.
This is important to understand this because if we believe that these new standards are to have a significant effect on the Wasatch Front pollution problem, we will be sadly disappointed.
The new regulations do, however, increase the likelihood of significant impact on the economies of Carbon, Emery, Sevier, Uintah and Duchesne Counties. Additionally, if these regulations lead to higher cost energy in Utah, it could have a significant impact on Utah families and industries.
Utah has a number of significant advantages over other states in the competition for attracting new industry, including so-called clean industries. Those advantages include great schools, a well trained and well educated workforce, business friendly tax environment and perhaps most importantly, a very inexpensive source of power.
Decisions made that will impact any of those areas negatively have the potential of having a negative impact on the overall economy.
I have the utmost confidence in Rocky Mountain Power and other players in the power production arena to address CO2 emissions as well as other dangerous pollutants. Their track record of cutting emissions is admirable. For example, according to Scorecard (The Pollution Information Site), between 1998 and 2002 the Hunter Power Plant in Emery County reduced overall emissions by 35%. In that same time period the Intermountain Power facility in Millard County reduced overall emissions by 33 percent.
These improvements came through millions of dollars in research and improvements based on that research.
Utah has finally stepped up to address our air quality situation along the Wasatch Front. I congratulate the legislature on their first steps in making a difference this past year with legislation. I would remind them that while the challenges are different in rural areas, Duchesne County is just as deserving of their attention and support as they address their unique ozone problem.
While the EPA's regulations address the goals and expectations of the new standards, they are sorely lacking in a plan that will assist coal-fired plants to reach those goals.
The federal, and to a lesser extent, the state governments have provided incentives for innovation in the power arena, they have paid comparative little attention to supporting research in Clean Coal Technologies.
Utah for generations has benefitted from inexpensive power produced from coal. Since statehood, and before, we have all relied on coal miners and power plant employees for not only inexpensive, but the most reliable energy available to meet our needs. To turn our back on those men and women at this point is unconscionable.
Where is the Administration's commitment to protecting those jobs and traditional economies? Where is our gratitude to the generations of miners who have provided that energy at a great human cost?
What is glaringly missing from this EPA proposal is a plan to address the real challenge in reducing carbon emissions.
This plan purports being flexible in working with each state to come up with a blueprint to reach these goals by 2030. I call on the federal government to work with the state to develop a plan that makes sense and protects families and workers. I further call on the feds and the state to commit funds for research and development in Carbon Capture and Sequestration and other emerging Clean Coal Technologies.
While we have spent billions in alternative energy research and have provided tax incentives to even fringe companies with little chance of success, we have not done the same to improve current technologies where billions in infrastructure already exist and have been put at risk.
Yes we all want cleaner air. Every time I visit the Wasatch Front in the winter I wonder why those living in this densely populated region don't just move to rural Utah where we don't have to color code our days. You are all invited to spend a few days next winter in our beautiful parts of the state that provide the energy that plays a part in our quality of life. You might even want to stay.
In any case when you flip that switch to turn on a light or make your smoothie or watch your television, thank a miner and think about Clean Coal Technologies.