This week the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a new set of proposed regulations for existing power plants. The goal: reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2030.
When the EPA announced the proposed regulations Monday, reactions in Indiana came fast and furious.
“Indiana is one of the most dependent states in America on coal-burning power plants, so the proposed EPA rules today would have a devastating effect on Indiana ratepayers, on Indiana businesses, and Indiana jobs,” Governor Mike Pence said when asked about the regulations. “We’ll be using all the means at our disposal to oppose them.”
Indiana relies on coal for 80 percent of its electricity generation, but the governor says he favors an “all of the above” strategy, a phrase he’s used often when describing Indiana’s energy policy.
“We don’t have to choose between a cleaner environment and a growing economy,” Pence says.
Other lawmakers and business groups said the proposal would put American jobs at risk, make energy prices skyrocket and send high-paying manufacturing jobs overseas.
And while EPA officials say reducing carbon emissions in the U.S. will help reduce pollution globally, Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar worries other nations won’t follow the United States’ lead.
“What concerns us in particular is this will be going on at the same time that China and India are adding coal-fired plants almost on a monthly basis, and are not following the same emissions regulations that we have now, let alone these stricter standards,” Brinegar says. “And so any reduction we see in air emissions in these standards in the United States is totally dwarfed by emissions in India and China.”
Brinegar says complying with the rules would put pressure on businesses to cut costs and reduce their workforces. He says Indiana’s renewable energy industries aren’t big enough to make up for those lost jobs.
But environmentalists says that view is shortsighted.
“The chamber is stuck in the past, and not recognizing that the coal fleet is getting old, the coal fleet is causing significant health problems,” says Bruce Nilles, the director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Here in Indianapolis, we have some of the worst air quality in the entire state, and that’s because of old coal-burning power plants that lack modern pollution controls.”
The Proposed Rules For Indiana
The EPA’s proposals are extensive. On paper, they take up 645 pages.
There are two main takeaways, though, when it comes to Indiana:
1. The EPA would require Indiana to reduce its carbon emissions 20 percent by 2030.
The EPA wants to reduce emissions 30 percent nationally by 2030, but not every state has to meet that 30 percent. Some would have to cut more or less, based on their dependence on coal and how easily they would be able to switch to alternative sources of energy.
Indiana’s 20 percent proposed reduction goal is higher than the state with the lowest goal, North Dakota at 11 percent.
But it’s much lower than the state with the highest goal, Washington state at 72 percent reduction. That’s because unlike Indiana, Washington state doesn’t produce much electricity using coal – they rely more heavily on hydropower.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce says the 20 percent goal is still too stringent, arguing that if businesses were to try meet that goal, it would cause a spike in electricity prices.
That leads into the second take away.
2. Indiana could customize its strategies for meeting that goal. That could include investing in existing energy efficiency programs, reducing demand for power, or upgrading aging infrastructure.
Purdue environmental politics professor Leigh Raymond says cutting emissions will likely cause some price increases, but giving states and companies flexibility on how to reduce emissions helps alleviate some of those costs.
Overall, Raymond says the proposed rules aren’t really a surprise.
“I think, to anybody who’s been following this issue for the last few years, they reflect what really has been going on – a trend that’s been going on in environmental policy-making for the last 10 or 15 years,” Raymond says.
And because they’ve known these types of stricter regulations were coming, some energy companies have already taken steps to reduce emissions.
How Companies Are Already Reducing CO2 Emissions In Indiana
Duke Energy is retiring four of the coal-burning units at its Wabash River Valley Station.
Indianapolis Power and Light is shutting down its coal-fired power plant in Martinsville and building a facility that will burn all-natural gas—a substance that, while it has its own environmental controversies, emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal.
There’s also carbon capture, which the Indiana Chamber of Commerce endorses. The newly built Duke Energy Edwardsport coal gasification plant is an example. It takes turns coal into a gas, separates the pollutants like carbon dioxide and then burns the cleaner gas particles to produce electricity.
The remaining carbon dioxide is typically stored underground, a process called sequestration.
But all these technologies cost money and they aren’t a sure bet.
When the Edwardsport plant opened, it was way over budget and has had difficulty producing the amount of energy it was supposed to be capable of.
That’s why environmentalists say alternative energy such as solar and wind power and reducing energy consumption are the state’s best bets for meeting the new standards.
“We’ve seen record amounts of wind power being installed in the northern part of the state, we’ve seen progress on solar around the Indianapolis airport, a lot of new solar being installed,” Nilles says. “So really just building on progress that’s already happened, that’s how we can move the state forward and make the transition to cleaner sources of energy and clean up the air here in Indiana.”
Governor Pence is vowing to fight the proposal, even if it means suing the EPA. But even if the state were to win a legal battle or delay the implementation of the new rules, Raymond says sticking with the coal industry’s current practices and technology is not an option.
“Clearly, in the long run, industries change, or we would still all still be driving horse and carriage and not cars. Computers were really bad for people who made typewriters for a living,” he says. ”What we need to do is try to manage the transition that, if you’re worried about climate change at least, has to happen – in a way that has the least impact possible on the people who work in the industries who are most vulnerable. That’s the key.”