Ohio regulators say Obama emissions goals unachievable, costly; environmentalists praise rules

Energy Associated Press

State regulators told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday that new federal goals for reducing mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from power plants are unachievable, costly and based on flawed assumptions.

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The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio were among hundreds of stakeholders around the country that filed responses to the proposal by President Barack Obama's administration to regulate certain pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants. Federal limits exist for mercury, arsenic and soot but not for power plant carbon emissions.

Earlier this decade, a federal review found roughly a third of tall smokestacks of coal-fired plants — structures that tend to send more emissions across state lines — were concentrated in five states along the Ohio River Valley, including Ohio.

The Ohio EPA told its federal counterpart that a 6 percent increase in efficiency at the state's existing power plants have already made many improvements. The agency said it simply isn't possible to meet that efficiency target, "especially for Ohio's fleet of coal-fired power plants which have already installed advanced air pollution control equipment and efficiency improvements."

The federal plan also asks Ohio to reduce its overall carbon emission rate by 28 percent by 2030.

A PUCO technical analysis found that meeting the new emissions goals would cost ratepayers an extra $2.5 billion in 2025 alone, eventually increasing wholesale electricity prices by 39 percent.

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The commission said a provision that requires power providers to place environmental factors above economic ones in determining generation priorities also violates the basic tenet of power deregulation, which instructs the regional grid operator to direct electricity generation "on a least-cost basis."

Besides that, the federal goals aimed at addressing climate change are based on renewable energy assumptions that don't match current state law, the commission said. It argued that introducing the necessary amounts of renewable energy into the grid would make energy supplies to consumers unreliable, unless prices were increased significantly or new transmission projects were built.

The Ohio EPA said the U.S. EPA's analysis for Ohio contains errors in its estimates of Ohio's generation capacity and "potential for improvements at individual plants," along with other "fundamental flaws."

Environmental groups differed, heaping praise on what the administration has called its Clean Power Plan.

The nonprofit Ohio Environmental Council said the flexibility provided by the federal proposal should allow Ohio to meet the efficiency and emissions mandates. Ohio would have the chance to use solar, wind and other renewable sources to a greater extent and bolster its clean energy industry in the process, the group wrote.

The council noted that Ohio is projected to see some of the highest reductions of particulate matter and other pollutants as a result of tougher regulations.

A group of other Ohio environmental groups — including the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, Environment Ohio and Audubon Ohio — said reducing emissions by using more renewable energy can be good for both the environment and the economy.