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Utah Braces for New Power Plant Regulations

Judy Fahys

 The Obama administration promised last year to crack down on the pollution blamed for climate change, and now the Environmental Protection Agency is getting ready to take a big step in carrying out that pledge.

On Monday, EPA is expected to roll out new regulations on existing power plants. Those plants are the nation’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions associated with global warming.

And a new report by a think tank called Ceres says Utah has a relatively high output of CO2.

“Utah is fairly high up the list,” says Dan Bakal, director of electric power for Ceres. “It’s about 6th from the standpoint of the carbon dioxide emissions rate. That’s probably because Utah gets a lot of its electricity from power plants that burn coal. Coal has a higher carbon dioxide emission rate than other fossil fuels like natural gas or oil.”

The report notes that carbon dioxide is up nationwide by 13 percent, compared with the benchmark year of 1990, although power plants have slashed their nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury pollution. What the new regulations might mean for industry won’t be clear until after Monday.

“We have been in discussions with EPA all along,” says Paul Murphy, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power in Utah. “In fact, last week, Rocky Mountain Power President Richard Walje met with the EPA administrator [Gina McCarthy] and talked with her, and the impression he got was that they are not going to put the country’s energy needs in jeopardy. That was somewhat of a reassurance that not all coal-fired power plants are going to be shutting down next week.”

Murphy says Rocky Mountain Power has been transitioning away from coal. In fact, it started up a new natural gas plant in Vineyard on Friday, and it plans to shutter the coal-fired plant near Price next year.

Coal provides 62 percent of Utah’s energy now in the company’s six-state service area, that’s changing.

“In the next ten years, that will go down to 46 percent,” Murphy says. “And we have no plans of building another coal-powered plant.”

Meanwhile, coal and other fossil fuels are expected to be hot topics at Governor Gary Herbert’s Energy Development Summit next week.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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