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Renewable energy, environmental justice among Clean Power Plan discussion topics

Written by Brett Sholtis | Oct 6, 2015 2:00 PM
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A spokeswoman for Exelon, which operates Three Mile Island, pictured, said the nuclear industry should be rewarded as part of the state's plan to meet the federal Clean Power Plan. (Paul Kuehnel - Daily Record/Sunday News)

(York) -- The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection took official comments from the energy industry, special interest groups and York County residents at a listening session Monday afternoon. The visit, chaired by the DEP secretary, John Quigley, is part of the agency's 14-stop listening tour of the state.

· Related: Watch video of Quigley meeting with YDR editorial board.

At issue is the federal Clean Power Plan, a bill aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions 32 percent by 2030. The DEP has until September 2016 to submit its proposal to the governor's office showing how Pennsylvania will meet the plan's requirements.

"We're in full listening mode, and will be until November," Quigley said in an interview. "Then we'll be picking up the pen."

About 18 people took to the podium to speak, with about 40 total in the crowd. Here are some of the themes that emerged -- themes that will likely become decision points as the DEP drafts its plan.

Defining renewable energy

Though the term "renewable energy" often means carbon-free sources, such as solar and wind, the definition also can include carbon dioxide-generating sources like biomass, waste products and wood.

Joy Bergey, a spokewoman for the Partner for Policy Integrity, said the DEP should exclude those energy sources from its definition of renewable energy.

"It makes no sense to be replacing coal with something that produces more pollution than coal," Bergey said.

Trading emissions credits

Emission reduction credits allow carbon-emitters who exceed their permitted level to buy credits from other parts of the state, lowering the allowed level in that other area.

Quigley said credits trading has already cleaned up the air on a national level. However, he said, it doesn't necessarily help those who live near a pollution source.

Kevin Stewart, director of environmental health for the American Lung Association in Pennsylvania, said that, for this reason, the DEP should focus on reducing emissions from all sources, rather than trading credits.

Environmental justice

Sources of pollution often reside near poor and minority communities, Quigley said, and the DEP is looking at ways to change that. It has defined communities with high poverty levels or large minority communities as "environmental justice communities," and wants to provide incentives for slashing emissions in those areas.

Nuclear power

Nuclear power operators have taken an economic beating from their natural gas competitors, with several power plants -- including Three Mile Island -- recently failing to secure key contracts that allow them to sell electricity.

Jeanie Liggett, a spokeswoman for Exelon, which operates three nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania, said the DEP's plan should reward nuclear operators for generating electricity while emitting no carbon dioxide.

Ralph DeSantis, Three Mile Island spokesman, said that at TMI, more than 500 employees and a thriving community also are at stake.

"Without being recognized for our environmental cleanliness, there's a possibility Three Mile Island could have to shut down early," DeSantis said.

The deadline

Some groups are also calling to extend the DEP's deadline to give all parties more time to interpret the Clean Power Plan and come up with solutions.

Kevin Sunday, a spokesman at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry, said the state should extend the DEP's deadline to 2018.

How to weigh in

When: The DEP is taking public comments until Nov. 12.

How to comment:

• Go to www.depweb.state.pa.us

• Click on the "eComment" icon

• Scroll down to "Pennsylvania's Path to Compliance with EPA's Final Rule for Carbon Pollution Emissions Guidelines for Existing Sources: EGUs (Clean Power Plan)"

• To read comments posted by others, click "view comments." To submit a public comment, click "submit comment."

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This article comes to us through a partnership between York Daily Record and WITF. 

Brunner Island retooling to burn natural gas as part of $100 million in plant upgrades

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