Area industry officials await details of new anti-emissions rules
June 25, 2013 at 11 p.m.
Reaction was swift and decisive Tuesday to President Barack Obama's initiative to combat climate change, in part by clamping down on America's power plant emissions. The executive action likely will face political and legal challenges.
Obama, speaking at Georgetown University, warned temperatures are rising, the sea level is climbing, Arctic ice is melting and the world is doing far too little to stop it.
At the core of the presidents' plan are new controls on new and existing power plants that emit carbon dioxide - heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. The program also will boost renewable energy production on federal lands, increase efficiency standards and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures. Obama called for the U.S. to be a global leader in the search for solutions.
"This is the change we have been waiting for," said Michael Brune, who runs the Sierra Club, an environmental group. "Today, President Obama has shown he is keeping his word to future generations."
The measure received a much cooler reception from representatives of the power industry.
A Luminant spokesman greeted Obama's order to curb greenhouse emissions with caution, but stopped shy of the condemnation the president's political opponents dispensed.
"We just have to look in the details," said Brad Watson, spokesman for Luminant, which operates coal-fired power plants at Martin Creek Lake and at Monticello Lake north of Pittsburg. "We just don't want to get out ahead of what the Environmental Protection Agency is going to issue."
AEP Southwestern Electric Power Co. spokesman Peter Main said the president's plan was "very, very important to our company," adding, "It is important there be flexibility within the approach EPA takes."
Main said the crackdown on power plant emissions could affect the cost and reliability of the nation's supply of electricity.
Forbes online magazine reported Tuesday that the top three greenhouse polluters are AEP/SWEPCO, Duke Energy and Southern Co.
Forbes reported SWEPCO plants emit the equivalent of 130 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, accounting for about 2 percent of the annual total, with Duke at 127 million tons and Southern Co. at 118 million, according to Forbes.
The U.S. government, by virtue of its power plants operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, is the fourth-greatest greenhouse emitter with 77 million tons, Forbes reported.
Now that Obama issued his order, which also riled Congressional Republicans he bypassed, it will take about a year for the EPA to write and finalize the rules themselves.
"What we're looking for are the details to the rules as they are going to be promulgated by EPA," Luminant's Watson said. "So, the devil is in the details."
Main said the power industry already had begun lowering emissions by closing older plants.
"There is a transition going on in the overall power industry across the country, and a number of power plants are being retired," he said. "That will have an impact on total carbon dioxide emissions from the power plant sector. We want EPA to take that into consideration as they consider their CO2 emission goals."
Obama's decision to directly cut emissions of greenhouse gases plays into local efforts to curb ozone creation and remain in attainment status with the Clean Air Act. Two major greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide, are the chief culprits along with hot weather in formation of ground level smog, or ozone.
The Northeast Texas region is in attainment with the Clean Air Act for ozone levels, but it's been a hard-fought achievement by a five-county coalition of government and polluting industry that relied heavily on volunteer investment in pollution-cutting equipment.
"If they want to reduce carbon dioxide, they have to lay out a way the rules can be achieved," Watson said. "The rules will have to be achievable within Clean Air Act guidelines. They have to indicate an adequately demonstrated way to lower the emissions."
Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt, co-chairman of the North East Texas Air Care alliance, agreed Tuesday with Watson's assessment the details hold the key to how Obama's new rule could affect this region.
"We'll all be waiting to find out exactly what the direction of the (president's) administration will be," Stoudt said. "It's probably going to be tied up in the courts for a period of time."
Stoudt, who gained intimacy with local greenhouse emissions as NETAC brought the area within compliance for ozone, cautioned the EPA could set the bar too high.
"If they go to that level, it's going to put two-thirds of the country out of compliance," he said. "So, we've still got a lot of uncertainties and untested measurements out there. Everybody wants clean air and clean water, but at some point you've got to have industry, you've got to have jobs. And there's got to be a balance, and I don't want Obama's ruling to trump continued business development and jobs."
Luminant also has installed smokestack scrubbers and other technology on its own in preparation for an unrelated federal pollution rule. The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which limits emissions that blow from one region into another in 28 states including Texas, spurred the company two years ago to shut at least one generating unit in Northeast Texas and promise local layoffs and lignite mine closures.
Texas and other states have challenged the cross-state rule in court, and on Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would take up that case, probably in the fall.
<em>- The Associated Press contributed to this report.</em>