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Environment & Energy
Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

House OKs Ratepayer Protection in Response to EPA Emission Reduction

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
This photo taken May 5, 2014 shows the stacks of the Homer City Generating Station in Homer City, Pa.

Supporters of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants say the plan will protect the environment and eventually save energy consumers money. Opponents say the harsh mandates would increase utility bills and shut down power producers.

The EPA announced the plan last summer to cut nationwide carbon pollution by 30 percent by 2030. The agency says power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions which must be limited as arsenic and mercury emissions are at power-plants.

By June 2016 each state will have to submit a plan of compliance to reach the goals the EPA sets.

Opponents say that mandate is illegal.

The Ratepayer Protection Act was approved by the House Wednesday with a 247-180 vote and three hours of deliberation. The act calls for an extension of when states have to submit the plans if a judicial review finds the regulations are legal. The act would also put in safe harbors for states such as not allowing plans that would have significant adverse effects on retail, commercial or industrial ratepayers.

Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA-12) supports the resolution as he said the mandates are an attempt to shut down energy producers.

“EPA’s regulatory scheme would have an enormous impact on our local economies, costing hundreds of billions of dollars, shutting down power producers, and hurting lower-income and middle-class families with increased utility bills and diminished job opportunities for the next decade. Such devastating costs are unjustifiable and EPA must be stopped,” he said.

The public advocacy group, Public Citizen, released a report in December saying even if energy rates in Pennsylvania increase because of EPA mandates, efficiency will increase.

David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program, said the most cost effective way to fight climate change is to increase energy efficiency.  

“If the state is working to improve energy efficiency, then even if the raw cost of electricity goes up, people might use so much less that their bills go down,” he said.

By 2020, Public Citizen projects Pennsylvania will use 5 percent less electricity compared to business as usual because of energy efficiency measures. Arkush said bills will initially increase but Public Citizen projects bills will decrease by 7.5 to 8 percent by 2025 saving households around $101 annually.

Arkush said Pennsylvania can reduce emissions by more than what the EPA has projected.

“The way the EPA generated state targets for reducing carbon pollution was by mapping out a possible course of action each state might take to figure out what’s feasible. The EPA assumes no state will ever do better than 1.5 percent annual savings from efficiency, but 11 states have already set higher targets than that,” he said.

In the state compliance plan, Pennsylvania will be able to note the progress in emission reduction from Act 129 signed in 2008 to reduce energy consumption by imposing requirements on electric distribution companies. After three years emissions were reduced by 1.06 percent.

“I think that list is even meant to be illustrative. I think that if states are doing other things that contribute and they make that case to the EPA they can probably include those in the plans,” he said.

The Ratepayer Protection Plan will move to the Senate for a vote while the EPA will finalize the Clean Power Plan this summer and begin the regulatory process for a federal plan.