DEQ’s Hatch says federal proposal to cut power plant emissions would cripple Louisiana economy _lowres

Advocate file photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Members of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, from left, Amelia Rhodewalt, EvanMarie Allison and Katie Moore use an oiled pelican puppet and banner to express their views Saturday at a rally in support of clean air and water on the steps of the state capital. Issues discussed included pollution by chemical and oil companies, salt water intrusion into water supplies and the distress of Bayou Corne. Two buses from New Orleans and one bus from Lafayette carried concerned citizens from across southern Louisiana to express their point of view, hoping to catch the attention of legislators.

A proposed federal rule to reduce carbon dioxide releases from power plants is an overreach by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and would cripple the state’s economy if enacted, the state’s top environmental official says.

In a letter Friday to EPA, state Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Peggy Hatch also questions the carbon dioxide goals proposed for Louisiana.

“However, even if these numbers are revised by EPA – the results would still cripple our state’s economy,” Hatch wrote.

The Clean Power Plan was proposed by EPA on June 2 under the authority of the Clean Air Act and as part of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan. Each state received designated goals based on a pollution-to-power ratio, not on any specific reduction from a baseline year. And, each state would be charged with developing its own plan based on the types of energy sources in the state.

Some of these plans could include establishing energy efficiency programs, setting renewable energy standards, requiring improved efficiency at power plants or switching power plants to operate on cleaner burning natural gas.

“This unprecedented rule essentially tells Louisiana the type of electricity we have to use,” Hatch wrote.

Bryan Johnston, senior environmental scientist in the air permits division at DEQ, explained that the section of the Clean Air Act being used addresses much more specific sources of pollution than the proposed rule.

Whenever EPA has proposed a rule under this section of the act, it’s always been very targeted and limited in scope — unlike the proposed effort, which is aimed at addressing climate change by reducing a wide source of carbon dioxide.

Under the proposal, Louisiana would be required to cut carbon dioxide releases by 40 percent over the next 15 years, even though the state doesn’t depend heavily on coal, which produces more carbon dioxide than other fuels.

States would have two or three years to send their plans to EPA and then up to 15 years to get their plans’ action items accomplished.

Hatch’s letter outlines DEQ’s concerns about items the federal agency failed to consider when setting Louisiana’s goal to reach 883 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour or the alternate goal of 1,025 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. In part, DEQ asserts that EPA didn’t consider several new natural gas units being built in the state and misidentified or misclassified a number of other facilities.

DEQ insists Louisiana’s goals should have been calculated at 1,078 pounds and 1,239 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour.

Louisiana’s 2012 baseline was 1,466 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour.

“While we believe EPA’s use of this incorrect data calls into question the rule in its entirety and warrants its abandonment, at the very least EPA should revise Louisiana’s goals,” Hatch wrote.

Nationwide, the goal is to cut carbon releases from power plants by 30 percent below the 2005 level by 2030, with a side benefit of reducing particle pollution, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent.

Johnston said DEQ is preparing another round of comments that will more specifically address the department’s assertion that the proposed rule goes beyond EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act.

EPA will continue to take comments until Oct. 16 and it’s expected the federal agency will finalize a standard by next June.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.