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Rothfus Introduces Bill to Relax Emissions Standards for Some Coal-Fired Power Plants

Much attention has been given to the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent announcement of tough restrictions on emissions from new coal- and gas-fired power plants, but Republican Congressman Keith Rothfus (PA-12) has his sights set on another, earlier EPA rule.

On Thursday, Rothfus introduced new legislation that would exempt certain types of coal-fired power plants from EPA standards passed last December.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) target pollutants like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium and cyanide. The standards fulfill a requirement that the EPA control certain toxic air pollutants, including mercury, which was set forth 23 years ago as part of the Clean Air Act Amendments passed by Congress.

Rothfus said compliance with this rule would force four power plants in Western Pennsylvania to shut their doors in the next two years, leading to the layoff of “ at least a couple hundred” workers.

The congressman’s legislation is called the SENSE Act, which stands for Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment.

How would relaxing emissions standards on coal-fired power plants save the environment?

Rothfus said that since the SENSE Act applies only to plants that burn coal refuse, the exemption would allow companies to clean up piles of leftover waste coal that are scattered across Pennsylvania and the country.

“These coal piles that have been left around the commonwealth have been utilized and (plants that burn them) are thereby helping to clean up the environment where these things are located,” Rothfus said. “They provide electricity, they help support the power grid, and unfortunately, one of the new EPA rules is going to force them out of business in just a couple of years.”

Rothfus was also critical of newer EPA rules, announced on Friday, which would prevent new power plants from burning coal refuse.

“We need to be using coal, and can be using it in a responsible manner, we could be making sure that we continue to improve standards,” Rothfus said. “The standards that were announced last Friday are simply not achievable at this point.”

Like many Republicans, Rothfus is concerned about the impact that strict emissions regulations will have on the economy, namely with regard to jobs and the price of energy.

In a 2012 press release announcing the MATS standards, the EPA estimated that “manufacturing, engineering, installing and maintaining the pollution controls to meet these standards will provide employment for thousands, potentially including 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term utility jobs.”

Still, Rothfus said the MATS standards and the standards for new coal- and gas-fired power plants announced on Friday are too strict, and will have a “negligible” impact on global warming.

“We use coal in a much more environmentally sound way in this country than they would in China or India,” Rothfus said. “In the context of coal-fired power plants and emissions around the world, there are other countries emitting a lot more than the United States is.”

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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