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Lignite industry says EPA’s carbon rules for coal-fired plants a ‘recipe for disaster’

BISMARCK – North Dakota’s lignite coal industry bristled Monday at the Obama administration’s plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, calling it “a recipe for disaster” that could lead to higher electricity prices and a less reliable energy grid.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever plan to cut carbon dioxide pollution from existing power plants calls for reducing emissions by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels by the year 2030.

Jason Bohrer, president of the Lignite Energy Council, said the industry has already deployed technology – about $2 billion worth in North Dakota in the past 10 years – to significantly reduce carbon emissions and is uncertain about how it will comply with the new standards.

“We’ve made billions of dollars of investments already, and this rule puts another mandate on us to spend billions more chasing down this perhaps unachievable target,” Bohrer said.

The Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club welcomed the EPA plan, saying it will clean up the industries that create the lion’s share of U.S. carbon pollution and also help reduce mercury, soot and smog.

Wayde Schafer, a conservation organizer for the chapter, said in a statement that the new standards will not only protect health and communities but also spur innovation and strengthen the economy.

“By tapping into clean energy like North Dakota’s abundant wind resources, we’ll create tens of thousands of American jobs,” he said. “Cutting pollution that harms our communities will also save billions of dollars in health costs, disaster cleanup and disaster recovery costs.”

The EPA’s plan gives states an interim goal to reach by 2020 and a final goal to hit by 2030.

For North Dakota, it requires cutting carbon emissions from existing coal plants to an average of 1,817 pounds per megawatt hour by 2020 and to 1,783 pounds per megawatt hour by 2030 – about 20 percent less than the current average for the state’s seven power plants that burn lignite coal.

“I don’t think we know yet if that’s workable,” Bohrer said.

Those plants emit an average of roughly 2,250 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, about the same as the national average, according to the lignite council. Proposed rules for new coal-fired plants announced last September would limit carbon emissions even further, to 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour.

North Dakota’s other coal-fired plant, Great River Energy’s Stanton Station, burns subbituminous coal.

The rules released Monday would give states the flexibility to develop plans to meet the EPA goals through a variety of options, including expanding their renewable energy capacity through additional wind power or other means to offset their carbon emissions.

“One of the objections to that is you’re starting to look a lot like a cap-and-trade plan that Congress considered and rejected, and it is not the role of the EPA to legislate,” Bohrer said.

States must submit at least an initial plan by June 30, 2016, a year after the standards are finalized. Individual state plans would be eligible for a one-year extension and multi-state plans could get a two-year extension.