8/3/15 – Stakes high for Illinois in carbon-emissions fight

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http://www.sj-r.com/article/20150803/NEWS/150809872/1994/NEWS

Tim Landis, The State Journal-Register

August 3, 2015

Illinois reaction to Obama administration plans for further reductions in power plant carbon emissions was swift and strong on Monday in a state coming off its best year for coal production in more than two decades.

The 58 million tons of coal produced by nearly a dozen Illinois mines in 2014 was the highest production level since 1992, according to industry figures. But about 85 percent of the high-sulfur coal was sold to out-of-state power plants or overseas. Only three of Illinois’ major power plants — including the City Water, Light and Power plant on Lake Springfield — still burn coal produced here. The Viper Mine at Elkhart supplies CWLP coal.

Illinois’ coal-fired power plants have gradually switched to cleaner-burning Western coal or natural gas, installed costly scrubber technology as occurred at CWLP or have shut down in the face of tougher carbon-emissions standards.

The administration’s new “Clean Power Plan,” already targeted by a coal industry lawsuit filed Monday, would require a 32 percent cut in carbon emissions from 2005 levels in the next 15 years.

“The Clean Power Plan is a big step, but it’s not the final step. Illinois, like all states, must act,” Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, said at a Statehouse news conference called in support of the administration plan.

The council is part of Illinois Clean Jobs, a coalition of environmental groups, businesses, health care and faith-based organizations pushing for legislation to make renewable sources such as wind and solar 35 percent of the state’s energy production by 2030. In addition to compliance with federal emission rules, supporters say the shift to renewable sources would improve health, create jobs and ultimately lower consumer costs.

Coal accounted for 43 percent of electricity in Illinois in 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, second only to the 48 percent produced by nuclear plants. Renewable energy accounted for about 5 percent.

The Obama administration rules are an opportunity for Illinois to lead the shift, said Chris Nickell, site manager for Springfield-based American Wind Energy Management.

“The fact is, competition is intense, and many states are outpacing us in the wind industry,” said Nickell. “Oklahoma leapfrogged us last year by putting 600 megawatts (of wind energy) online, while Illinois did none.”

Nickell said Iowa and Minnesota also have stepped up renewable energy production, while Illinois has languished.

“Every day, rural communities across our state are missing out on tax revenues, and farmers are missing out on lease payments,” said Nickell.

Critics of the administration’s carbon-emission policies said the latest rules are nothing less than a continued assault on the coal industry.

“Their chief effort here is to put the coal industry out of business,” said Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association.

Gonet called administration revisions to an original emission-reductions plan “a shell game.”

St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, one of the world’s largest coal producers, said in a statement the proposed rules would drive up consumer power bills and eliminate thousands of jobs with little provable benefit to the environment. The Illinois coal industry employed approximately 4,000 workers in 2014.

“Studies show the rules will punish American families and businesses with higher energy costs and damage electric reliability, while having no notable benefit even under climate theory,” the company stated.

States would have a year to come up with compliance plans under the administration rule. Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Director Lisa Bonnett said in a statement the state would evaluate the Obama administration plan.

“Illinois is fortunate in that we have tremendous energy diversity, and we will want to leverage our strengths,” said Bonnett.

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office released a one-sentence response: “The administration is reviewing the new regulations under the Clean Power Plan and its impacts on Illinois.”

Critics and supporters agreed prospects for short-term action in the Illinois legislature are uncertain, especially as the state’s budget deadlock drags into a second month.

“Their emphasis is on the budget, and all other issues are secondary,” said Gonet. “We really don’t know where the Rauner administration is going to go.”