Vermont can breathe easy — it won't be required by new federal rules to lower power plant emissions. And it can breathe more easily still — state officials say the rules will mean less pollution blowing into the state from coal-fired generators in the Midwest.
Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii are the only states exempted from rules the Environmental Protection Agency issued Monday that require other states to cut power plant emissions by 32 percent by 2030, said Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Public Service Department.
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Recchia and Deb Markowitz, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, said the EPA's Clean Power Plan appears aimed at applying nationwide policies that Vermont has been pursuing for years.
"We are in much better shapes than other states," said Recchia, whose department regulates utilities. "Finally the true cost of energy and the true value of the renewables we've been pursuing will come to fruition."
Markowitz said Vermont is "really in an interesting position here."
"We're exempt from the requirements of the new rule, but we get to benefit from its implementation," Markowitz said.
Vermont's largest source of electricity is hydropower imported from Canada. It has some in-state dams and two wood-burning power generators, in Burlington and Ryegate.
Markowitz said the rules are likely to prompt other states to mimic Vermont and other northeastern states in the formation of regional agreements to limit carbon emissions. The Northeast's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has capped carbon emissions and ratcheted the cap down year by year, while allowing states under their caps to sell pollution allowances to those struggling to stay within the caps.
Vermont has used the income to support energy efficiency and renewable-energy programs.
Monday's news about the EPA rules had Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin crowing.
"The critics of today's announcement should look to the example of Vermont where we have taken the lead in implementing the President's vision for a clean energy future and shown that doing so can be good for ratepayers and the economy," the governor said in a statement.
He pointed to the state's booming solar and wind power industries, which he said had created more than 15,000 jobs.
Markowitz and Recchia said imposing new carbon emission restrictions on states to Vermont's west is expected to result in cleaner air in the Green Mountains. Nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide, two principle components of acid rain, are emitted along with carbon, as is mercury.
Mercury, a potent neurotoxin, is deposited by prevailing west winds in Vermont's lakes and rivers. It has prompted state Department of Health warnings to limit fish consumption. Pregnant or nursing women and children up to 6 are warned against eating several popular types of sport fish caught in Vermont, including walleye, lake trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass.