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Pa.'s US senators react to plan to address climate change

By Bo Koltnow, Reporter, BKoltnow@wfmz.com
Published On: Jun 02 2014 04:00:16 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 02 2014 04:32:25 PM CDT

Some environmental advocates are hailing President Barack Obama's proposal to cut carbon emissions from coal plants, but opponents say the move will kill jobs in the coal industry.

Some environmental advocates are hailing President Barack Obama's proposal to cut carbon emissions from coal plants, but opponents say the move will kill jobs in the coal industry.

"There is a reason we use coal across Pennsylvania, because it's affordable, local, reliable," said U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania.

Toomey wasted little time blasting the Obama Administration's plan to curb carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants up to 30 percent by 2030, saying the plan will cost jobs and hurt the economy.

"Going to drive up electricity prices for Pennsylvania residents because we have a disproportional high number of power plants driven by coal," Toomey said.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state's carbon emissions have fluctuated. Some years are higher, some are lower, but overall, Pennsylvania is one of the nation's biggest culprits of producing carbon and other greenhouse gases that are linked to climate change.   

"I would hope folks wouldn't allow politics to interfere with policy we need to address," said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania.

The EPA-backed plan would allow states four options to meet the new standards: improving energy efficiency, investing in renewable energy, making power plant upgrades and switching from coal to natural gas.

It's a move the Portland Generating Station in Northampton County is already making. The plant stopped using coal at the end of May following a 2007 court case. Plans are to switch to cleaner burning, low sulfur diesel fuel by 2016.

In terms of job loss debate, s small example is the Portland Generating Station. Officials said when the plant reopens in 2016, it will have 30 employees, compared to more than 50 when it was producing coal.

Casey said an extended comment period is needed to analyze the issues of electricity rates, job losses, and affects on public health and the environment if nothing is done.

"So we can get information to separate the weak from the chaff, fact from politics," Casey said.

But it appears politics are still very much on the table.

Toomey is pushing for a Senate up and down vote as to whether the plan should go forward. It's a sign that at least the political climate in Washington may not be changing.