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State DEP Clashes with Federal EPA Over Greenhouse-Gas Emissions

Agency argues that proposed rules for power-plant pollution are ‘needlessly complex, impossible to implement’

Bob Martin
State DEP Commissioner Bob Martin

The state Department of Environmental Protection is opposing the Obama administration’s proposal to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, calling the draft rule fundamentally flawed.

In a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, the state described the draft rules as “incomplete, needlessly complex, and impossible to implement,’’ according to a letter from DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. The state agency said the proposal could not be redeemed through mere revisions and ought to be scrapped.

The draft rule, unveiled last year, has sparked huge controversy, especially in states, that rely on coal-fired power plants, and in Congress, as well as court challenges. If implemented, energy analysts say it will lead to the retirement of many coal plants because they will not be able to meet the standards.

The proposal is one of the centerpieces of the Obama administration’s efforts to address global climate change -- an issue very important to coastal states like New Jersey, which are most in danger of being effected by rising sea levels and extreme storms, such as Hurricane Sandy.

In New Jersey, the Christie administration argues it is ahead of the proposed reductions the EPA is calling for, saying it has cut carbon dioxide emissions -- a primary component of global warming -- by 33 percent, more than the 30 percent target the federal agency has set as the 2030 goal for the entire nation.

Nevertheless, the state still has a long way to go to achieve an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, a target set by a law passed by the Legislature under the Corzine administration. To reach that goal, the state identified three primary programs for reducing emissions: the state’s new Energy Master Plan; a program to promote cleaner-running vehicles in New Jersey; and participation in a regional initiative to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants.

The Christie administration pulled out of the regional initiative, and efforts to promote cleaner and zero-emission vehicles have been spotty at best. As for the Energy Master Plan, some of its initiatives to produce cleaner electricity are stuck in neutral, particularly a plan to promote offshore wind along the coast of New Jersey.

Still, in his letter Martin argued that the draft rule punishes states, including New Jersey, which already have taken significant steps to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.

“Based upon an evaluation of EPA’s proposed percentage reduction for each state, it is clear that those states that have done the most are expected to continue to do the most, and those states that have done the least are allowed to continue to do the least,’’ Martin said in the letter.

Some power plants in New Jersey have taken aggressive steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. PSEG Power, a subsidiary of the Public Service Enterprise Group, has invested more than $1 billion in sophisticated pollution controls at the two coal-fired plants it operates.

“New Jersey’s enormous progress in cutting carbon dioxide emissions should be recognized by the federal government,’’ Martin wrote. “Instead, this proposed rule would punish our state -- and others who have been leaders -- for success.’’

Further, the DEP argued that the EPA is exceeding its authority for regulating current power plants and also maintained that the federal proposal could hinder New Jersey’s efforts to promote fuel diversity, an issue that could raise reliability issues and costs concerns for the power grid.

That issue emerged this past January when the state and the rest of the region were blanketed with unusually cold weather, an event that strained the regional power grid and spiked costs to consumers.

Martin argued that the proposal burdens citizens of New Jersey with unjustifiable increases in electricity costs. “Adding a cumbersome and poorly designed federal regulation is the wrong approach,’’ he said.

Others took a different view. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said that in the past New Jersey has challenged the EPA to take more aggressive actions on environmental issues. Now they are opposing them. He described DEP’s opposition as another example of the state bowing to Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential ambitions.

“The EPA (draft) rule is a very modest proposal,’’ Tittel said. “It just shows how hard it is going to be to get states to comply.

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