The EPA's Proposed Clean Power Plan Will Impact Pennsylvania's Economy

Energy & Resources

By Scott Seapker

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which writes and enforces human health and environmental regulations, submitted new standards on carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants that will affect the coal industry and have a significant impact on local businesses.  The coal and utility industry expects that the plan will have an adverse impact on Pennsylvania’s coal-related businesses, while environmental groups contend that the new standards are a step in the right direction to decrease carbon emissions.

According to the EPA, the proposed state-specific emission guidelines are to be followed when states develop plans to address greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units.  The EPA standard would reduce overall emissions by 30% for the entire country.  The impact on Pennsylvania’s plants is more severe at a proposed reduction of emissions of approximately 42%  by 2030 and a reduction of particle pollution, nitrogen oxide and sulfer dioxide emissions by 25%, using a 2005 baseline.  Representatives from the Republican and Democratic parties in Pennsylvania have opposed the plan, and many critics have referred to this plan as a part of the “war on the coal industry,” which they say has significantly increased environmental regulations in recent years. 

Companies that release more than the allowed emissions could also be forced to mitigate their emissions through purchasing emissions credits, implementing expensive upgrades, or installing a host of other carbon-reducing measures. In 2012, 39% of Pennsylvania generated electricity was provided by coal, followed by nuclear and natural gas at 33% and 24%, respectively.  If the Clean Power Plan is put into law, there would be a significant change in the source of electricity generation, with natural gas most likely providing a greater portion due to increased surplus and decreased costs. Prior to the release of the Clean Power Plan by the EPA, utility companies have already been cutting emissions by increasing usage of natural gas or adding renewable energy sources to their sources.

The proposed rule is in a comment period until October 16, 2014, and is expected to be highly debated by Pennsylvania and other energy-producing states.

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