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EPA official says Clean Power Plan key to minimizing climate change

By Bryan Thompson | September 25, 2014

The regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency says climate change is already happening.

Karl Brooks, administrator for the EPA's Region 7, which includes Kansas, says the best way to minimize climate change is to implement the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

“Carbon emissions from the power sector are the largest, single, uncontrolled source of greenhouse gas pollutants in America right now,” Brooks said. “Our obligation to regulate those pollutants is clear. The Supreme Court announced that nearly six years ago.”

The EPA still hasn’t finalized its plan to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. The proposed rules would require existing power plants in Kansas to cut carbon emissions by 23 percent by 2030. New power plants would have to keep their carbon emissions below a set level — one that would be impossible for coal-burning plants to meet without using carbon capture and storage.

Brooks said America can meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets and maintain a reliable supply of electric power through innovation, efficiency and competition.

“This country is in a better position to compete and win globally by moving toward a lower-carbon economy, because that’s what markets want, that’s what investors reward, that’s what customers prefer,” he said.

According to Brooks, the Clean Power Plan puts a premium on flexibility at the state level and allows states to work together to meet their emissions reduction goals. The EPA has received more than 750,000 comments from the public on the Clean Power Plan. The deadline for submitting comments has been pushed back to Dec. 1.

Brooks said Kansas utilities and state officials worked with EPA staff during the summer to create a strategy to comply with the Clean Power Plan.

“At this stage, the state of Kansas is actively involved, working on what Kansas’ approach to the Clean Power Plan will look like over the course of the next year or two,” he said.

The most controversial issue Kansas faces is the planned expansion of a coal-fired power plant near Holcomb, in southwest Kansas.

Backers of the expansion insist it should be classified as an existing plant, because of all the planning that has gone into it the past nine years. Environmentalists oppose that classification, because no actual construction has taken place.

The EPA had proposed classifying that plant and a handful of others as “transitional,” which might have allowed it to be regulated as an existing plant. The agency has since abandoned that idea. However, the agency has not decided how to classify the Sunflower Electric expansion.

The EPA and state officials are working through the legal aspects of that question. Brooks said he doesn’t know what the timetable for a decision might be.

Regardless of how the Holcomb expansion is classified, Brooks said agricultural states like Kansas have much at stake in the Clean Power Plan, as climate change is already causing more extreme weather of all types.

“The nation’s leading scientists have identified weather unpredictability — more floods, lasting longer, higher temperatures extending longer through the summer growing season, and in the winter as well — as major factors that are already observable,” he said. “They’ve already been documented. We’re focused on this because it really affects the way that we produce the food here in the heartland. Inaction is not a good option for us.”

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