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EPA gets an earful on plans for coal power plants

‘Unproven technology’ disparaged at listening session in Denver

DENVER – Coal miners from as far away as North Dakota came to Denver on Wednesday to speak out against plans to cut greenhouse-gas pollution from power plants.

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to release rules to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants by next June and to finalize the rules by June 2015. On Wednesday, it held one of 11 national “listening sessions” at its Denver office.

President Barack Obama told the EPA to work on the rules, which could be among the country’s most significant steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Power plants account for 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions.

“Power plants are the nation’s single-largest source of carbon pollution, a source we must address as we work to combat climate change,” said Shaun McGrath, the EPA’s regional administrator. “Science tells us that climate change is real, that human activities are fueling that change and that we must take action now to avoid the most devastating consequences.”

McGrath’s EPA region stretches as far as North Dakota, and miners and coal company executives traveled from that state, Wyoming and Colorado to protest the EPA’s plans.

North Dakota state Sen. Jessica Unruh works for a coal mine and has six coal power plants in her district.

“Requiring these plants to install commercially unproven technology to meet emissions standards could be potentially devastating,” Unruh said.

And Wade Boeshans, a coal-mine manager, said jobs will be at risk if EPA cracks down too hard.

“If you’d come to North Dakota, you’d see the respect with which we treat the land we mine,” he said.

People who worry about climate change also made a showing at the listening session.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, speaking for Gov. John Hickenlooper, joined environmentalists at a rally in a bookstore across the street from the EPA office.

Colorado is a leader in reducing carbon emissions, Garcia said, because of a 2010 bill that hastened the replacement of coal plants with natural gas.

Climate change is a very real issue, Garcia said.

“We know it has the potential to have broad impacts on our lives and our economy,” he said, citing Colorado’s recent droughts, wildfires and costly floods.

A technological solution is possible, said Alfred Brown, CEO of Boulder-based Ion Engineering.

Brown’s company is working on better equipment to capture carbon emissions, which he says should be ready for commercialization by the end of the decade. Carbon capture should increase the costs of operating a coal power plant by about a third – much less than the current technology – and Brown thinks companies could recoup much of their costs by selling carbon dioxide. The gas is used to pressurize old oil fields.

The EPA already has released a rule to cut carbon emissions at future power plants. Environmentalists say the rule is strong enough that it will be impossible to build another traditional coal power plant in the United States without carbon-capture equipment.

The next step for the EPA – addressing existing power plants – is much bigger. Wednesday’s listening session was devoted to the rule for existing plants, which has not been released yet.


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