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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.

With New EPA Mandate, PA Looks To Cut Power Plant Emissions

Now that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has unveiled its plan to set limits on carbon emissions, Pennsylvania will have until 2018 to determine how to comply.

The plan is anticipated to reduce emissions from power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels, up from a 30 percent reduction in the original 2014 draft.

Under the EPA mandate, Pennsylvania and other states have until September of 2018 to submit their final emission reduction plans. If a state doesn’t turn in a plan, they must comply with the federal model which will be finalized by summer 2016.

The reductions will start in 2022 (originally 2020 in the draft), and the final targets must be met by 2030.

“It’s certainly ambitious but it is definitely achievable,” said Neil Shader, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Pennsylvania will use this as an opportunity to write a plan that could improve public health, address climate change, and improve the state’s economy and power system, according to Gov. Tom Wolf’s office.

Shader says Pennsylvania needs to do everything it can to fight climate change as well as make sure it continues to be a net electricity exporter.

“This is a big opportunity for Pennsylvania; it’s a big opportunity for all parts of the energy portfolio: clean coal, natural gas, wind, solar, really all sources of energy here in the commonwealth,” he said.

By 2030, the EPA estimates there will be up to 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children and up to 3,600 fewer premature deaths due to unclean air, according to their website. Also by the deadline, there will be a 2,000 percent increase in solar power since 2008.

Pennsylvania is among the 16 states that will need to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions the most, compared to the original proposal.

Shader said the governor will work with the Republican-controlled House and Senate, and there will be plenty of opportunities for public comment.

“It’s a good opportunity to bring together everyone, all the stakeholders that will be involved, and make sure there’s a good, effective, and responsible plan for the commonwealth,” said Shader.

The plan could have negative effects on the fossil fuel industry in Pennsylvania, which was ranked fourth largest coal-producing state in 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“The EPA has set the bar so high it would be virtually impossible to maintain a significant coal power generation fleet and still hit the target numbers EPA has set which absolutely makes no sense,” said John Pippy, CEO of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance. “Overall as an industry it would be devastating.”

A public comment period on the EPA regulations will begin in early September, with additional comment periods over the next three years as the Pennsylvania plan is drafted and finalized.