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Concerns over use of Clean Air Act

By Dennis Hill

In a June 25 speech at Georgetown University, President Obama announced a broad new initiative to cut carbon dioxide emissions, prepare the nation for the impacts of climate change, and lead international efforts to address global climate change.

The plan sets ambitious goals for renewable energy and energy efficiency, such as permitting enough solar and wind projects on federal land to power more than six million homes by 2020, and cutting commercial, industrial and multi-family buildings’ energy waste by 20 percent.

The plan also calls for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to work closely with states, industry and others to set carbon dioxide emission standards for both new and existing power plants, and to make up to $8 billion in loan guarantee authority available for advanced fossil energy and efficiency projects to support investments in innovative technology.

The North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives (NDAREC) supports several aspects of the president’s climate change plan, but joins with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and others in expressing concern about using the Clean Air Act (CAA) to limit carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants. The United States Supreme Court has found that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases fit within the broad CAA definition of “air pollutants” and thus are subject to regulation.

Unfortunately, Congress never specifically intended that the CAA be used to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, and the Act is not designed to allow consideration of costs and benefits of alternate approaches to achieving policy objectives. This type of consideration should be done by Congress. But Congress has been able to agree on very little lately, so it’s likely the president’s plan will proceed.

The problem for North Dakota’s electric cooperatives is that we invested billions of dollars in coal-fired generation at a time when global warming was not considered an issue. Now, restrictive new carbon dioxide emission standards placed on existing coal plants would likely lead to plant closings because there are no proven, cost-effective technologies presently available for large-scale power plants to capture the carbon dioxide emissions. These plant closings would harm local communities, cause the loss of thousands of jobs, and cost billions of dollars in higher electric rates for electric consumers across the country.

EPA’s new administrator, Gina McCarthy, has already reached out to seek input from electric cooperatives as the agency implements the president’s plan. When those discussions begin, she will hear that we support the innovation and promotion of new advanced fossil technology, as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives. But, she will also hear that electric cooperatives oppose any new regulations on new or existing power plants that would lead to serious economic hardships for our members, our power plant workers, and for the people of North Dakota.

Dennis Hill, editor-in-chief of North Dakota Living, is executive vice president and general manager of the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, Mandan. Comments can be mailed to Dennis Hill, NDAREC, P.O. Box 727, Mandan, ND 58554-0727 or by email to


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