Pa. embraces EPA emissions plan

Despite a call from coal producers to go slowly, Pennsylvania environmental regulators are steaming full speed ahead to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"We view the Clean Power Plan as presenting some major opportunities for Pennsylvania," John Quigley, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Wednesday at a "listening session" the DEP held in Philadelphia to gather public comment on its emissions-reduction strategy.

Most of the 30 speakers at the event, which was attended by about 60 people at the University of Pennsylvania's Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, supported the Obama administration's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, which will impose a reduction in coal-fired generation and the development of more renewable power.

Several suggested that the state should go beyond Pennsylvania's target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 33 percent by 2030.

"The EPA target is inadequate to correct the problems resulting from current reliance on hydrocarbons for electricity generation," said Peter Winslow, president of the Evolve Foundation Inc., an environmental nonprofit.

Skeptics suggested the plan will drive up energy prices and reduce electric-grid reliability in exchange for a meager effect on global climate. They suggested the state take advantage of a two-year extension to submit its final plan, rather than completing it by September 2016.

"A responsible energy policy that considers all outcomes and constituents is vital, particularly when 50 percent of the state's households who are most vulnerable to electric price increases will be at the brunt of these changes," said Will Dando, director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance.

The Penn session, along with a Wednesday night hearing in Marcus Hook, are among 14 public events DEP is holding to gather public suggestions on how it might comply with the EPA mandate. The state is also accepting written comments until Nov. 12, when it will begin devising its response.

The Clean Power Plan, which will face intense legal challenges once it is formally published in the Federal Register, requires each state to develop a plan to meet its individual emissions-reduction target. Pennsylvania's target is relatively high because it has a large amount of coal-fired generation.

Several speakers suggested Pennsylvania join a regional carbon-trading group to sell emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency and renewable energy. One option is to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state alliance that New Jersey exited earlier this year.

More information on the Clean Power Plan is on the state DEP's website: http://bit.ly/1VnC3lq

amaykuth@phillynews.com

215-854-2947 @maykuth