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State prepping to push back on EPA carbon reduction deadline

KDHE official says Obama plan too aggressive in curbing emissions linked to climate change

By Andy Marso | September 03, 2014

An official with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment says it will be difficult for the state to have a plan in place by the proposed deadline to meet President Obama's order to curb emissions linked to climate change.

Tom Gross, chief of the bureau's air monitoring and planning division, said this week that the rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency could leave the state with only one year between the time it becomes final in June 2015 and the time the state has to implement a plan in June 2016.

"That's a very short time period compared to what we've had at other times," Gross said. "That's very tight."

The EPA rule proposed in June instructs states to limit the amount of carbon dioxide spewed into the air by existing power plants. A rule proposed a year earlier applied only to new plants.

The proposed target for Kansas, Gross said, is to reduce emissions from existing plants by 23 percent from their 2012 level by 2030.

States have until Oct. 16 to submit comments to EPA. Gross said his agency is "wading through thousands of pages in the docket to try and figure out where EPA has some issues" before it submits its response.

"We've found a couple of areas where we think they are a bit aggressive," Gross said.

He said the state's comments are still in draft form, and he would not go into specifics except to reiterate that the timeline between EPA issuing its final rule and states having to implement their plans might be too short.

"That's probably our number one comment," Gross said.

Gross said Kansas may seek an extension, especially if it opts to participate in a multi-state plan.

Enesta Jones, a media relations specialist for the EPA, said via email that the deadlines were based on Obama's June 2013 memo to the EPA instructing it to cut carbon emissions.

"However, the proposed rule provides an enormous amount of flexibility and recognizes that some states may need more than one year to complete the actions needed for their final state plans," Jones said. "EPA is proposing an optional two-phased submittal process for state plans."

Under the two-phased process, Jones said states would have to submit reasons for an extension by the June 2016 deadline, and commit to submitting a completed plan by 2017 or 2018, depending on circumstances.

While briefing a legislative committee on other EPA regulations Tuesday, Gross briefly dipped into the latest carbon dioxide emission proposal.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, asked Gross if his division had begun forming a plan to meet the 2030 target.

Gross said it was too early, given the final rule had not yet been issued, but he and other KDHE officials are seeking input from stakeholders.

He also said the EPA had given states "fairly broad possibilities" in how they can meet their goals, but quickly qualified that statement.

"They didn't just give us carte blanche," Gross said. "It's EPA, they never do. There's always strings attached. But they did give us a framework."

Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, raised concerns about the economic impact of the proposal.

EPA has estimated the project could cost $8.8 billion annually nationwide when it is fully implemented in 2030.

European Union nations have started carbon emission reduction plans based on reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The reports recommend quick action to avoid a rise in global temperatures that would have dangerous effects on sea levels and weather patterns.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, proposed his own plan to fight climate change when he ran for president against Obama in 2008, but Republican appetite for such proposals has since waned.

Republicans in Congress launched an investigation this week into whether the National Resources Defense Council, an environmentalist group, wielded undue influence on the EPA's climate change rules and other proposed regulations.

At the state level, the Kansas House's Energy and Environment Committee passed a resolution in February opposing Obama's climate change plan. Prior to passage, committee members voted to strip out language stating that there is no evidence for human-caused climate change, against the wishes of committee chairman Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita. The resolution never got a vote in the full House.

Gross said the EPA is unlikely to go back on its latest proposal.

"The president set in his climate action plan hard targets for EPA," Gross said. "I'm guessing if the president is your boss, you try to reach those targets."

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