On the eve of a visit to St. Louis by federal electricity regulators, a panel hosted by the St. Louis Regional Chamber sent a clear message from Missouri’s business and political establishment: federal rules designed to cut carbon emissions threaten the state’s economy.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants elicited no support on Monday from the four-person panel, which included a former state utility regulator and representatives from Missouri business lobbying groups.
The rules don’t appear to be popular with Missouri Democrats, either. Panelist and House Minority Leader Rep. Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, called EPA’s plan a “step too far” and said he worried it would drive up electricity prices and stifle growth.
The Chamber panel was organized a day before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hosts a conference in Berkeley on the EPA proposal, which aims to curb heat-trapping carbon dioxide linked to climate change. FERC regulates the national electric grid, and the Tuesday conference will examine risks to grid reliability in the Midwest due to changes in power generation spurred by the EPA rule.
Even without the rule, almost 13 gigawatts of coal power are expected to shut down this year, although a boom in wind, natural gas and solar will more than offset those retirements, according to the Energy Information Administration. Thousands more megawatts of coal generation are expected to shut down should the EPA finalize the carbon regulations.
After the Monday forum, a statement from public relations firm LS2group, which helped organize the Chamber panel, quoted Hummel saying FERC should “fight for the workers in Missouri who will suffer the most should EPA’s proposal be finalized as written.”
“We cannot afford another self-inflicted wound and regulatory mandate that will destroy jobs and crush economic opportunity for the middle class,” Hummel is quoted as saying in the release.
Hummel’s consternation about the EPA proposal isn’t unique among high-ranking Missouri Democrats. While stopping short of outright criticism, Gov. Jay Nixon and Sen. Claire McCaskill, both Democrats, have both found fault with the rule’s interim carbon dioxide targets. They suggest utilities should be given more time to comply.
Ameren Missouri, the largest affected utility in the state, also says it could save billions of dollars if it had until 2035, five more years, to reach the final EPA targets. However, it maintains the rules are illegal.
The federal rules are scheduled to be finalized this summer and states will have another year to draft a plan. EPA has argued its proposal will give states flexibility to craft their own plans for carbon dioxide reductions.
But Ray McCarty, president of Associated Industries of Missouri, told attendees of the Chamber forum that was little consolation. “They really said, ‘Do you want to die by lethal injection or firing squad?’”
Terry Jarrett, a member of the Missouri Public Service Commission and former general counsel to Republican Governor Matt Blunt, argued market forces are already leading to cleaner energy production. States like Missouri, he also pointed out, have passed their own laws requiring a certain portion of electricity to come from renewable.
“The market is already taking care of a lot of these problems and the states are taking care of a lot of these problems,” he said.
Jay Atkins, general counsel of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said “just the prospect” of the EPA rules are stymieing investment among his group’s members. That, he said, “causes recessions.”
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- On March 30, 2015