EPA Carbon Rule – Environmental Quality Board Hearing

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by Kelly Halpin

The June 18th Environmental Quality Board (EQB) Climate Subcommittee hearing on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, aka the carbon rule, sought to understand the EPA’s proposed carbon reduction goals for Minnesota; as well as, what that may mean for stakeholders and citizens. Focusing in on carbon emissions by existing coal plants, the EPA provides for much flexibility in how Minnesota intends to reduce emissions and records these advances, even allowing for coalitions across multiple surrounding states.  In conjunction with the Minnesota Pollution Pollution Control Agency(MPCA), public commenters and other presenters delved into the goals and how different actors intend to move forward during the comment period.  Although many are excited by the flexibility included in the rule and that Minnesota was recognized as a leading state in carbon reductions, some utilities have concerns with the high targets that were designated. As a whole, the hearing brought forth the challenges set by theEPA, but also highlighted voices that are excited by the opportunity for Minnesota to move forward in the fight against climate change.

After a short briefing on the carbon rule’s implications for existing power plants, the hearing brought forth Mark Seeley, Minnesota’s climatologist, to highlight many of the visible effects of climate change that are already occurring in the state such as shortened growing seasons, recent flooding, and summer droughts.  Discussing several of the economic disadvantages of climate change, such as impediments on infrastructure, public health, and Minnesota’s large agricultural sector, Seeley called for public policy to assist in mitigation strategies.  After a strong presentation and Q&A with the board, Seeley enforced the necessity of the carbon rule in order to stop current and future effects of climate change.

Green Energy

Other presenters, such as the Great Plains Institute and Xcel Energy, took up the issues of cost and previous investments made to reduce carbon emissions. Both groups were especially interested in the potential for collaboration within and among surrounding states in order to encourage flexibility and account for previous investments in Minnesota. Unfortunately, Xcel Energy was especially adamant in expressing its previous investments in clean energy sources and its concern that the EPA’s rule unfairly underestimated these gains. During this comment period, Xcel hopes to change the rule to include Minnesota’s early action in carbon emission reduction, as the state is currently a leader in the nation for carbon emission reductions. This approach, however, seeks only to weaken the rule, rather than focus on its ability to facilitate change and uphold Minnesota in its position of leadership.

Towards the end of the hearing, the floor was opened up to the public to comment on the EPA’s rule.  Karen Monahan with the Sierra Club challenged the EQB and MPCA to push beyond the rule, using it as a means to move toward Minnesota’s state goal of 80% carbon reduction by 2050 in order to combat climate change. She called for Xcel and other energy companies to focus on replacing coal plants and investing in renewables and energy efficiency in order to implement this change, and for Minnesota to continue to grow in its efforts.

Other public commentators, such as the Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy, added additional justice and equity concerns to the hearing. They pointed out that low-income families, people of color, the elderly, and youth will see the worst effects of climate change. Many of the public comments called for the EPA’s carbon rule to stand as an opportunity for change and leadership in Minnesota, seeking to embrace the challenges and be leaders rather than focus on previous advancements.

You can download a zip file of the presentations from the EQB hearing here.

If you want to ensure Minnesota acts to address climate change, volunteer as a Climate Avenger with the Sierra Club (and have fun while making a difference.)

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