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Kentucky Regulators Want Flexibility in Carbon Rules for Existing Power Plants

Erica Peterson, WFPL News

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose rules regulating greenhouse gas emissions—like carbon dioxide –from existing power plants next June. But Kentucky regulators are preemptively trying to influence the agency’s decision-making.

The EPA will propose the rules under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, which allows broad flexibility in how the agency writes the rule, and how it requires states to comply. In a white paper the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet sent to the EPA last month, the commonwealth makes the case for what’s called a “mass emissions” approach to carbon dioxide from existing power plants. This means rather than an absolute limit on emissions, individual states would be required to reduce CO2 emissions by a certain percentage, which could be done through closing power plants, ramping up energy efficiency programs, or a number of other ways.

The proposed rules for new power plants issued in September are stricter; they require new natural gas power plants to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of CO2 per kilowatt hour, and coal-fired power plants are limited to 1100 pounds.

Assistant Secretary for Climate Policy John Lyons says Kentucky can reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. But 97% of the state’s electricity comes from coal, and the commonwealth should be allowed flexibility and time to make reductions.

“If you were to prescribe a rate-based approach for existing facilities that coal couldn’t meet, you would have no choice but to shut down the coal plants,” he said. “That simply is not reasonable nor feasible when we look at the 200,000 manufacturing jobs that we have in this state. There needs to be time for transition.”

In his Climate Action Plan released this summer, President Obama set goals of a 17% reduction in carbon dioxide by 2020, from the nation’s 2005 levels, and an 80% reduction by 2050. Lyons says it’s realistic to reduce Kentucky’s levels by 38% by 2030. A large chunk of that will come from reductions that are already planned; Kentucky will likely see a 27.5% drop in carbon dioxide emissions by 2025, solely from planned retirements of coal-fired power plants to comply with upcoming limits on mercury and other dangerous air pollution.

“And we think we should be given credit for that because those are real CO2 emission reductions,” Lyons said. “They shouldn’t be left on the table and try to get something above and beyond that, because they are real reductions and it is a real impact for the state.”

According to 2009 data, Kentucky is the tenth largest emitter of carbon dioxide per capita in the nation.

Erica Peterson is a reporter and Kentucky Public Radio correspondent based out of WFPL in Louisville, Kentucky.
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