Federal rule is on hold, but Louisiana’s environmental chief still plans to restrict coal-fired power plant emission _lowres

Associatred Press file photo A plume of steam billows from the coal-fired Merrimack Station on Jan. 15, 2015, in Bow, New Hampshire.

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on Feb. 9 halting enforcement of a federal rule to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality is moving ahead with developing plans to implement it.

The first public meeting to discuss possibilities for what the state’s plan might include should be held in mid-March in order to gather ideas from environmental groups, energy producers, energy efficiency groups and the public.

The rule is part of President Barack Obama’s climate action plan. Carbon dioxide is a “greenhouse gas” that contributes to global warming and climate change.

The Clean Power Plan in question went into effect in October but was immediately challenged in court by numerous entities, including a group involving Louisiana and more than 20 other states. The Supreme Court issued a stay, preventing the EPA from moving forward with enforcing the rule until it can be fully reviewed by the court system.

“I applaud the majority in their decision to halt one of the largest utility rate increases on low and middle class consumers in American history,” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry wrote in a statement after the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this month. “Today is a victory for Louisiana, who would be on the hook for the billions it would cost to implement this rule.”

Initially, states would have been required to submit a preliminary plan by September on how they would meet the 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide greenhouse gases. However, with the court stay in place and even if the courts uphold the rule, EPA has assured the states the deadline will likely be pushed back a year, said DEQ Secretary Chuck Brown.

After that deadline, states can ask for a two-year extension, so there is time to put together a plan even though other states have held many more planning meetings by this point, he said.

Louisiana has objected that the rule goes beyond the authority of the EPA as set out by the Clean Air Act, is unfair in how it is applied to different states and could cause problems with how electricity is transmitted, resulting in possible price increases.

However, with the new administration of Gov. John Bel Edwards, some of the attitudes related to the Clean Power Plan have adjusted.

“Even if this rule wasn’t in place, we’d be having these discussions,” Brown said. “Do I think it could be a better rule? Probably.”

However, he said, the science is pretty clear that climate change is happening, and if nothing else, EPA’s Clean Power Plan has gotten people talking about the issue and what should be done to reduce greenhouse gases.

“We decided we would continue to move forward on a parallel approach,” Brown said, with both the lawsuit and preparing to implement the Clean Power Plan in case the courts uphold the rule.

“We don’t want to be caught flat footed,” he said.

Brown said he’s already talking with power producers, energy efficiency groups, utilities and environmental groups and will be asking each to come up with agenda items for the March meeting.

“I think we can meet reduction goals without any undue burden on any one industry and without rates going up,” he said. “So whatever (approach) we choose is right for Louisiana.”

Louisiana gets about 20 percent of its energy from coal-fired power plants, and companies say when their current plants have reached the end of their lifespans they will be replaced with something other than coal, Brown said. As preparation, he said, power companies already are planning for reductions in greenhouse gases and what they’ll be doing when their existing coal-fired power plants need to be replaced with cleaner technology.

“In 20 to 30 years, they’re going to be converting anyway,” Brown said.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.