A question settled over the country's top coal-producing state Monday: What do the Obama's administration's new pollution standards on coal-fired power plants mean for Wyoming?

State politicians said it meant job losses and skyrocketing electric bills. Some analysts said it could be a boon for Wyoming's burgeoning wind industry, along with its natural gas and uranium sectors.  Others predicted some combination of the two. 

The proposed plan is to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The rules are largely directed at coal-fired facilities, which account for roughly a third of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. 

Each state will be given a targeted emissions reduction requirement under the proposal and then develop a plan to meet that threshold. Wyoming faces a 26 percent reduction of its carbon emissions under the rule, according to a preliminary analysis by the Georgetown Climate Center.

But in a state that supplied around 40 percent of the country's coal in 2013, the question was not only what Wyoming must do at its own power plants. The question was also what other states would do to comply with the standard. In the rule, the EPA predicted coal production will fall roughly a quarter by 2020. Coal use by the power sector will decline around 30 percent by 2030, the agency said. 

Coal now accounts for around 40 percent of the country's electricity generation. 

Wyoming's congressional delegation said the proposal was evidence the administration is trying to eliminate coal, arguing it would cost the state jobs and send electricity rates soaring. 

"I'm glad it's just a proposed rule because it really isn't a workable rule for the country or for Wyoming," said U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, a Gillette Republican. "It's going to have some very drastic effects, were it actually to go into effect."

EPA will hold a public comment period before finalizing the rule sometime next year. Legal challenges are widely expected to follow. 

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican, questioned if the EPA will allow states to develop their own emission reduction plans. 

"Whatever plan the state comes up with has to be approved by the EPA and the EPA can just say no," Barrasso said. "They are the judge, the jury and the executioner."

Gov. Matt Mead, for his part, pledged to fight for coal's future, saying the regulations represented a "heavy-handed approach." 

Wyoming's fortunes are intertwined with the coal industry. Mining companies employ 6,400 people in the state. Almost 90 percent of Wyoming's electricity is generated by coal. And in the 2011-2012 budget cycle, coal revenues accounted for $1.2 billion.  

"It is a raw deal for Wyoming," said Wyoming Mining Association Associate Director Travis Deti. "If these rules go through and are accepted as is, it is certainly going to cost in Wyoming jobs, in revenues, in higher energy prices.

That view was hardly universal, however. The plan is decidedly modest, said Tyson Slocum, director of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen's energy program. In 2013, U.S. emissions were already 15 percent below 2005 levels, meaning the country is already halfway toward meeting the threshold, Slocum said. 

Utilities are also given considerable flexibility in determining how to reduce their emissions. They can employ energy efficiency measures at their plants or with their customers, or deploy cleaner power sources like natural gas, wind, solar or nuclear, he said. The proposed rule represents a shift in the way the EPA regulates pollutants. Previously, the agency regulated pollutants like nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury on a plant-by-plant basis. The new rule would set a standard for reducing carbon emissions across all of the state's power plants.

"If you're a utility, you're breathing a sigh of relief," Slocum said. "There might be some details to quibble with, but generally this is a road map utilities can live with because it's a pretty modest target and utilities can work with the states."

Wyoming's utilities were largely mum about the subject Monday. Rocky Mountain Power said it was reviewing the rule. Basin Electric Power Cooperative and Black Hills Corp. made the same point but added they would prefer to see carbon standards tackled by Congress rather than regulatory means. 

"The overall impression from Black Hills Corp. is the new EPA greenhouse gas regulations on existing and modified electrical generating sources could dramatically reshape our energy economy and our delivery of reliable, affordable electricity to our customers," said Black Hills spokeswoman Sharon Fain. 

Analysts said Wyoming's wind industry will likely benefit from the rule, helping to diversify the state's economy while driving job growth in a new sector. Wind was the second-biggest source of energy production in the state behind coal, accounting for 8 percent, or 4,415 thousand megawatt hours of electricity in 2013. 

The rules will also help spur new projects in the state, they said, including the country's largest proposed on-shore wind farm in the 3,000-megawatt Chokecherry-Sierra Madre development near Saratoga. 

"Under these regulations, coal is going to be a part of the generation mix for the country as a whole," said Gabe Pacyniak, an associate at Georgetown Climate Center. "We will end up with a more diverse power generation sector, which will help us achieve those carbon emission reductions."

The EPA's use of 2005 as a baseline year makes the emissions target achievable, said Robert Godby, an associate professor of economics and finance at the University of Wyoming. The economy was at full employment that year, meaning emission levels were higher than in 2008 when the economy entered the recession.

The 2030 dateline is five years earlier than the date when many of the state's coal plants are scheduled to be upgraded or retired, raising the prospect that some facilities will be shuttered slightly before their scheduled closing dates. Wyoming ratepayers will likely shoulder the costs of the early retirements, as utilities seek to recoup their investments, Godby said.

Still, the EPA's emphasis on allowing utilities to use natural gas, wind or nuclear power to reduce their emission levels could also turn out to be a positive for the state, Godby said. 

"I'm actually pretty optimistic our state doesn’t come out too poorly," Godby said. "We’re going in a new world and this is part of the change. It’s disruptive, but it’s not unexpected. It brings uncertainty, and I think that’s what people are going to react to." 

This story was updated to correct a characterization of EPA's predictions. The agency predicts coal production will fall roughly a quarter by 2020 and coal use by the power sector will fall 30 percent by 2030. 

Reach energy reporter Benjamin Storrow at 307-335-5344 or benjamin.storrow@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @bstorrow

(6) comments

thehousemouse

Mead " heavy handed approach" Are you serious? you sat back and spent more time on tying to destroy cindy hill and covering your tracks, then paying attention to your god (OBAMA) and what would happen when we, Wyoming came under attack by the epa and did nothing. " you ate and continue to eat at the trough of federal money under the guise" if we don't take it someone else will mentality and this is the end result" Wyoming is no longer a ( a free state) we owe a lot back for the money you all spent on business council and special interest groups, like the ones supporting you.. Wake up Wyoming vote for none of the boys in office today, be careful there are slags behind the scenes, also known as ringers....they register late and no one knows them or heard of them before they threw their hats in... or they are felons / former failed politicans from other states.

thehousemouse


So why would greatly reducing carbon emissions at power plants lead to the “killing of our economy”? Vitter said it’s pretty simple.

“To reduce carbon emissions like that so dramatically, we’d have to get rid of a lot of abundant, cheaper sources of energy right now, starting with coal and many other fossil fuels. Those are the most efficient, the most low-cost forms of energy we have. So we’re simply displacing that for higher ways of producing electricity,” he said.

“So energy costs are going to go up significantly. When you do that, it’s a toll on the economy. It’s basically a tax on consumers and a tax on the economy, so it’s going to slow economic growth even more.”

Vitter said 40 percent of the nation’s electricity comes from coal, which is expected to take the hardest hit if these regulations take hold. He said the green-energy movement cannot begin to replace the lost energy capacity expected from these regulations and added there’s really nothing to replace coal that is even remotely competitive on price.

“So we’re going to pay much higher prices,” Vitter said. “A big hit to consumers and to families and a big hit to businesses in terms of costs. That means fewer jobs.”

Vitter said Republicans in Congress, along with some Democrats, will try to stop the implementation of the new EPA rules, which he calls “illegal and unconstitutional.” He also expects major lawsuits to be filed against the rules, but the senator said the real leverage belongs with the American people in November.

“We’re going to have a big national election this fall,” he said. “Conservatives have an opportunity to take back the U.S. Senate. That would be a significant check and balance against this sort of unbridled power. I think and hope that energy, energy prices, the very slow recovery we have is going to be an important part of that election debate.”

Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2014/06/obama-set-to-kill-economy-with-1-simple-move/#5cos2TFQkMFvqAoc.99

Pioneerpete

How come the Wyoming economy did not suffer "disaster" when modernization of equipment resulted in layoffs of large number of employees--ironically some of the engineers who created conveyer systems to move coal more efficiently? Take a look at the numbers of employees in the Powder River mines over the past fifteen years before you raise your voice. For further reference, compare the outcry over policies to reduce smog in or cities and acid rain with the results, costs included. Predictions that seat belt requirements would kill the auto industry were in the same class as predictions that reduced auto emissions would "kill the auto industry." For Americans living with the dangers of coal ash disposal, and "blow off the top of mountains" mining techniques common in Appalachia, an increase in utility rates might be a decent trade-off for for their health, for their lives.

TBA
TBA

At some point,humans are gonna have to face the music for their slob habits since the industrial,with it's incessant greed,started.When the current anti anything for the habit are dead and gone we will all be left with their sorry decisions of greed and apathy.

jc45

In the early 1970s when the EPA began to enforce the clean air regulations there were very few coal mines in the PRB, WYODAK was the only one that I recall. The call to reduce sulfur in power plant emissions gave rise to the boom in lower sulfur and lower heating value PRB coal. The coal companies in the eastern US screamed that the use of PRB coal would kill the coal industry in the eastern US. They also claimed the cost of electricity would skyrocket, due to the cost of transportation to get the coal from the PRB to the power plants. They claimed that the use of PRB would cost the US thousands of jobs in the eastern coal fields. The electrical utilities companies adapted to the changes in the rules and prospered, as did the coal companies. The prediction of the loss of thousands of jobs and huge increase in the price of electricity did not materialize.
The number one enemy to the coal fueled power plants is cheap natural gas. As long as we have an abundance of natural gas, the coal industry will take a hit. It is cheaper to build, maintain and fuel gas fired plants than coal fired plants.

Kool Kat

Since when is Congress not a part of regulations?
Now we have "regulatory agencies" creating their own legislation. Isn't this just a little illegal? Like perhaps dictatorially setting standards without Congressional authority.

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