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Rollback of Clean Power Plan means NH utilities may avoid expensive retrofits

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 21. 2018 7:51PM
The Merrimack Station in Bow recently converted from primarily burning coal to kerosene - a much cleaner fuel. (COURTESY)

President Donald Trump’s rollback of the Clean Power Plan will allow some New Hampshire utilities to avoid expensive retrofits in the future but could lead to more pollution from coal-burning power plants in upwind Midwestern states.

That’s the outlook of both New Hampshire supporters and opponents of Trump’s controversial, long-awaited decision to dramatically rewrite the Obama’s rules on pollution emission reductions.

“I think New Hampshire is potentially at the mercy of the decisions that leaders in states and their utilities might make upwind from us,” said Roger Stephenson, spokesman for the Union of Concerned Scientists that supported the Obama policy.

Greg Moore is state director of Americans for Prosperity, a Koch Brothers-financed, fiscally-conservative group that embraced Trump’s policy change.

“The Clean Power Plan was a loser nationally. By the EPA’s own estimates, it would increase electric rates substantially and have almost no impact on climate change,” Moore said.

“It was fundamentally all pain with no gain.”

States should be able to decide for their own whether to restart stalled coal-fired plants or continue a migration toward cheaper natural gas, Moore said.

“We continue to push for an all-of-the-above approach that eliminates all the subsidies, all the mandates and lets the market determine what the best energy sources for each market are.

In his White House run, Trump charged Obama carried out an illegal executive order that overreached after Congress wouldn’t pass the emission reductions into federal law. Trump called it Obama’s “war on coal.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled replacement of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan on Tuesday. The new rules will increase planet-warming carbon pollution and could cost more than a thousand American lives each year, according to the EPA’s own estimates.

The plan encourages efficiency improvements at existing coal plants to ensure they operate longer and allows states to weaken, or even eliminate, coal emissions standards.

“We’re ending intrusive EPA regulations that kill jobs,” Trump said in a White House statement.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said Tuesday’s announcement begins a public comment period.

“Today we are fulfilling the President’s agenda. We are proposing a (plan) that promotes affordable, clean and reliable energy for all Americans,” Wheeler said.

Combined with a planned rollback of car-mileage standards, the two are a major retreat from Obama-era efforts to fight climate change and would reverse an Obama-era push to shift away from coal and toward less-polluting energy sources such as natural gas, wind and solar power.

Trump has already vowed to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement as he pushes to revive the coal industry.

“This will impact the public health and the quality of the air we breathe here. It’s not a good forecast for New Hampshire,” said Catherine Corkery with New Hampshire Sierra Club, which has opposed Trump’s environmental policies.

“This will mean people have a higher risk of not only symptoms but a higher risk of death from this air pollution,” Corkery charged.

Trump went to a rally in West Virginia Tuesday, a state heavily dependent on the coal industry that overwhelmingly supported him in 2016.

But AFP’s Moore said he doubts whether power plant owners will try to revive coal even with this invitation from Trump to do so.

Moore noted that more than 55 percent of New Hampshire’s power is nuclear power coming from the Seabrook plant.

“The economics of coal haven’t radically changed because of the Trump policy,” Moore said.

The Trump policy will likely allow New Hampshire plant owners to avoid expensive upgrades such as the scrubbers former owner Eversource NH had to install on its Bow power plant that used to generate coal.

“A lot of the plants in New Hampshire and all across New England will not have to have high-cost retrofits and that will have a positive impact for electric rates,” Moore said. “We’ll still paying the cost for those scrubbers in Bow.”

The state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation issued separate statements criticizing Trump’s policy shift.

“The Trump Administration has made a disgusting choice to place the interests of the fossil fuel industry and their lobbyists above the well-being of the American people. Every American has a right to clean air and water, and this new plan is a profound betrayal of these rights,” said U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH. “This plan will hurt our tourism industry. It also threatens those on the Seacoast who are already facing rising sea levels that put their homes and businesses at risk. And it’s also a health risk.”

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