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Environmentalists, Utilities React to Federal EPA Carbon Reduction Plan

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — A call to cut carbon emissions by utilities nationwide by 30 percent by the year 2030 could energize both opponents and supporters. And with the release of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal Monday, the battle lines are now drawn.

Several faith-based environmental groups called for a statewide gathering of petition signatures in Iowa to support the proposed Obama administrations rule changes. Iowa Interfaith Power & Light called the new federal standards “common sense limits on carbon pollution that will inspire investment in infrastructure to protect communities from the climate change impacts …” Group members vowed to begin collecting signatures on June 8th. That dates was significant because in 2008 that was the day major flooding began statewide. The group considers global warming a contributing cause to more significant flood events.

The rules proposed by EPA would require that 30 percent cutback based on emission levels in 2005. States would have until June 30, 2016 to come up with a plan to implement the new rules. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned that the proposed standard would potentially cost the country’s economy $51-billion dollars when fully implemented by the year 2030.

Ryan Stensland, a spokesman for Alliant Energy, said it’s impossible to know this early what the potential impact would be on energy prices in Iowa. Alliant currently relies on coal-fired generators for 41 percent of the company’s power needs. But Stensland also said the proposal comes as no surprise to utilities because they’ve expected something like this for years.

“Our company has invested in the energy efficiency program, the renewable energy resources and we’ve also seen some significant investment and we’ve had a comprehensive plan involving coal-fired facilities,” Stensland said.

Stensland said Alliant has either upgraded or retired older coal-fired plants as time goes by. The utility has placed a greater emphasis recently on renewable energy and nature gas when adding new generating capacity.

Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids), a frequent legislative voice for environmental changes, disputed critics who warn that shifting energy generation automatically means higher power bills.

“I don’t think it will cause economic problems. I think it will spur economic innovation. It will help our economy and it will deal with a real problem — too much carbon pollution in the atmosphere,” Hogg said.

EPA officials also touted the health benefits of cutting carbon pollution. Al Rowe, a regional board member for the American Lung Association, said the statistics he’s seen show cutting carbon is a goal worth fighting for.

“If these standards were put in place, in the first year that would reduce 100,000 asthma events and another 4,000 lung-related events that could be related to deaths,” Rowe said.

The EPA is offering an extended comment period of 120 days to allow more than the normal amount of time for all sides to voice their opinions. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IOWA) said that was appropriate because a significant portion of Iowa energy comes from coal. “The EPA has an obligation to hear from everyone with an interest in this rule,” Grassley said.

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