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Clean Power Plan Questioned At Utah's Capitol

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Lawmakers talked Wednesday about the Obama administration's efforts to cut the pollution blamed for climate change, and they heard testimony from the state Energy Development Office say that the regulation could cost billions of dollars nationwide.

A state energy official told lawmakers Wednesday that cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s power plants could be costly for Utah.

The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to cut the emissions linked to climate change hasn’t been finalized yet, but Utah’s energy officials and electricity producers worry that the new emission controls could hit Utah hard.

“Affordability and reliability, two sides of the same coin, are going to be important issues,” said Laura Nelson, director of the Utah office of Energy Development.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to cut CO2 pollution from existing power plants by almost one third. The EPA is not expected to tell states what they need to do to meet that target until summer, and the states have just a year or two to tell EPA their strategies.

Lawmakers who heard Nelson’s report asked if the state’s energy industry might be harmed and if the EPA might be overstepping its authority.

But the leader of a Utah environmental group urged state officials to begin talking about climate change impacts in Utah before deciding that solutions cost too much.

“It’s a tough conversation to have about the price we might have to pay to address a problem,” said Matt Pacenza, executive director of the environmental group HEAL Utah, “if we haven’t talked about the problem actually happening.”

Pacenza said the state’s cost estimates for the Clean Power Plan were twice as much as another analysis. He also said industry has a track record of overstating the costs of environmental regulations.

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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