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Utah Reacts To Clean Power Plan's Demise

Judy Fahys
Rocky Mountain Power's Huntington Power Plant in Emery County is already on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of what ultimately happens with the Clean Power Plan. Demand for alternative energy has been increasing in recent years.

Editor’s Note: The Trump administration is taking another step to scrap the Clean Power Plan, a signature climate-change initiative of the previous White House. We’re reposting the KUER story from last spring, when President Donald Trump announced his intentions. The EPA began circulating a formal proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan on Tuesday.

Utah power companies were already starting to lower greenhouse gas emissions when President Donald Trump signed an executive order this week to roll back the Clean Power Plan.

The regulation was never implemented, but it would have required Utah’s coal and gas-fired power plants to cut about one third of their emissions by the year 2030.

The president’s executive order Tuesday ultimately scraps the regulation. Yet it’s not expected to change much in Utah, since the state’s 11 affected power plants are on track to reduce their emissions.

“The Clean Power Plan was already a reflection of what we were doing,” says Paul Murphy, spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power in Utah.

Its parent company is Berkshire Hathaway Energy, the first utility company to back the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce global climate pollution. Murphy says the company has been working hard on offering affordable clean energy because customers are demanding it.

“That transition already began before the Clean Power Plan and will continue with or without it,” he says.

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes have fought the climate regulation. And Utah Republicans in Congress have praised the Trump administration for backing the fossil fuel industry.

But environmentalists say moves like reversing the Clean Power Plan and ending the coal-leasing moratorium, which was also announced this week, will actually harm people and the economy.

“Utah Republicans and the administration aren’t protecting jobs,” says Lindsay Beebe of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Utah. “They’re picking and choosing which industries to support and which to drive out of the state.”

Beebe says the greenhouse gas rules adopted last summer would have prevented 3,600 premature deathsnationally each year. Meanwhile, she doubts this week’s energy-regulation rollbacks will do little to bring back coal jobs. That’s because of low world prices and already big stockpiles.

A 2015 tally from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put greenhouse gas emissions in Utah at around 42 million metric tons a year, based on reports from 78 companies. 

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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