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Clean Power Plan Gets Mostly Positive Reception In Utah

The Deseret Power Coooperative's Bonanza power plant near Vernal, Utah
Dan Bammes
Power plants are responsible for the biggest share of greenhouse gas emissions in Utah and the U.S. The new Clean Power Plan Rules are aimed at shifting to cleaner alternatives.

Supporters and critics of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan have only begun to size up what the new carbon-pollution controls might mean in Utah, and their first impressions differ.

Back in Washington, the American Lung Association describes the Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations as lifesaving. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch calls them job-killing.

But here in Utah, people have just begun to review the regulations for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Rocky Mountain Powergenerates around 80 percent of the electricity Utahn’s use from coal, but spokesman Paul Murphy says his company is already making the kinds of changes the EPA wants away from fossil fuels.

“If they allow us the flexibility to work with the states and to figure out on our own how to reach those goals,” he says, “we think that we can have cleaner air and keep prices at a reasonable rate.”

Supporters say the regulations will reduce Utah’s dependence on coal and speed up cleaner alternatives like solar and wind power. The Salt Lake Chamberof Commerce even calls the regulations good for the state’s $5.3 billion energy business and air quality. Matt Pacenza leads the environmental group HEAL Utah.

“These targets from the EPA, they’re not super-ambitious,” he says, “but nonetheless they will push Utah towards some pretty significant investments in both energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

The White House says Utah power plants released almost 30 million tons of climate pollution, and the agency’s pushing the state to come up with a plan that will reduce that pollution by 27 percent in the next 15 years.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy visited Utah last month and insisted that the state will be able to develop its own approach to reaching the pollution reductions.

“We don’t care how you do it as long as you get there,” she said. “And so the state needs to ask itself, what do you want your state to look like by 2030? How do you want this to work?”

Officials at the Utah Division of Air Quality say they’ll need time to look over the final Clean Power Plan before they know if the new carbon-pollution regulations really are workable.

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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