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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced proposed rules dramatically cutting carbon dioxide emissions at the nation’s power plants, and Buffalo’s top electric utility responded with words of support despite criticism of the proposal from manufacturers nationwide.

Under the proposal – which is aimed at combating climate change – power plants would have to cut their carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent, compared with 2005 levels, by 2030.

“Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy and our way of life,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids.”

National Grid, which supplies electricity to much of the Buffalo area, was one of several utilities to announce support for the plan today.

“I am strongly encouraged by EPA’s efforts to reduce CO2 emissions through sensible and practical regulation,” said National Grid U.S. President Tom King. “The Obama administration, through the good work of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and her staff, has worked in a transparent manner to craft regulation that promotes environmental and human health through a host of clean energy options.”

The announcement of the proposal begins a public comment period. The EPA is expected to finalize the new power-plant rules by the middle of next year, and then will give the states a year to design plans to implement them.

Environmental groups said the new rules would prompt power plants to shift from coal – which produces more climate-cooking carbon emissions than any other fuel source – to natural gas.

The New York State Public Service Commission late last year approved a plan to convert NRG Energy’s conversion of its Dunkirk power plant from coal to natural gas, and the new EPA proposal indicates that that approval may have saved the plant’s life, just as NRG argued in the debate over the conversion.

Nationwide, though, the new EPA power plant rules are sure to be hugely controversial, fueling assertions that the Obama administration is waging a “war on coal.”

The new rules will be particularly tough on manufacturers in states that rely heavily on coal for their electricity generation, such as those in the Midwest, the National Association of Manufacturers said today.

“As users of one-third of the energy produced in the United States, manufacturers rely on secure and affordable energy to compete in a tough global economy, and recent gains are largely due to the abundance of energy we now enjoy,” said Jay Timmons, president and chief executive officer of the manufacturers group. “Today’s proposal from the EPA could single-handedly eliminate this competitive advantage by removing reliable and abundant sources of energy from our nation’s energy mix.”

email: jzremski@buffnews.com