New Rule Aims To Cut Carbon Emissions By 30 Percent

Jun 2, 2014

Jim Bridger Power Plant near Rock Springs, Wyoming
Jim Bridger Power Plant near Rock Springs, Wyoming

In an effort to curb climate change, the Obama administration has proposed a rule to cut carbon emissions from electricity generation by 30 percent. The rule is the first to target power plants, the nation’s largest carbon emitters.

States will have to meet their own emissions targets, which vary widely from the overall reduction goal. Wyoming will need to cut its carbon emissions by 19 percent from 2012 levels. Less coal-dependent states will have to make much bigger cuts. Announcing the rule Monday morning, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy said states will be able to use a variety of approaches to make the reductions.

“Our plan doesn’t prescribe, it propels,” McCarthy said. Among the options laid out by the EPA are using more renewable fuels, improving efficiency and cap-and-trade schemes. Industry and trade groups have said the rules will impact the affordability and reliability of electricity. McCarthy disagreed. “Critics claim that your energy bills will skyrocket. They’re wrong. Should I say that again? They’re wrong.” The EPA says the rules will actually decrease average electricity costs in the long-run.

Wyoming utilities weren’t immediately prepared to comment on what impact the rules would have on electricity rates in the state.

“We really need to evaluate what the requirements are, when and where we can meet those requirements and then take a look at what this means to the bottom line of the customer,” says Sharon Fain, with Cheyenne Light and Power.

Wyoming currently has some of the lowest electricity rates in the country, in large part because 85 percent of the state’s electricity comes from inexpensive coal. Cutting emissions will likely require shutting down some of that coal-fired generation.

In a statement, Governor Matt Mead promised to thoroughly review the 650-page regulation, but warned: “We will take steps to fight for coal."

If it survives inevitable legal and legislative challenges, the rule would result in huge cuts in coal production, as utilities switch to other fuel sources and increase efficiency. That would be a major blow to Wyoming, which produces more than 40 percent of the nation's coal and receives more than a billion dollars from coal production every year.

The rule now goes to a 120 day comment period.