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State Legislators Explore What EPA Carbon Emission Rule Could Mean to Wisconsin

S Bence

Next summer, the EPA is expected to roll out the final plan directing states to cut emissions from coal burning power plants. It is part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan.
Governor Scott Walker has expressed his displeasure; he has said he’s willing to battle the issue in court.

Some Wisconsin legislators say they want to learn more about EPA’s proposal. So Wednesday, the Assembly Energy and Utilities Committee held an informational hearing.

Committee Chair Mike Kuglitsch said he did some reading before the hearing, starting with the EPA’s fact sheet about cutting carbon pollution. It refers to the plan as commonsense.

“Now call me cynical, but I don’t think something that is considered commonsense and flexible would have created 1.6 million comments from various stakeholders across the country; would have also raised major concerns from our energy producers – utilities – our energy consumers – the manufacturing base, and the state agencies that are in charge of implementing this flexible and common sense plan,” Kuglitsch says.

The DNR would oversee carbon reductions in Wisconsin. Spokesman Bart Sponseller says it let the EPA know that the job won’t be easy.

The draft plan requires Wisconsin to drive down emissions by 34 percent. Other states’ goals range from 11 to 72 percent, so Wisconsin is near the middle.

Sponseller says a bitter pill to swallow is the fact that Wisconsin has already reduced carbon pollution. “In fact EPA’s proposal has the perverse result of penalizing states that have already taken action to reduce CO2 emissions, relative to those who have done nothing. Our comments asked the EPA to address the inequity.”

Keith Reopelle agrees the EPA should modify its plan. Reopelle works for the environmental group Clean Wisconsin.

Yet he believes an energy saving program already underway in Wisconsin – if expanded, would help the state meet a goal of 34 percent. “Clearly Focus on Energy is a huge asset for us. It is giving us very significant carbon emissions reduction and it’s doing it at the same time that it’s saving homeowners and business owners hundreds of millions of dollars cumulatively every year on their energy bill,” Reopelle says.

One person who does not see the EPA plan as a “gem in the rough” is Public Service Commissioner Ellen Nowak.

She says she spent hours pouring over EPA’s 1000-page draft. Nowak predicts it would drain jobs from Wisconsin and cost utilities and ratepayers here more than $13 billion to reduce emissions. “Improving the environment, is that good? Absolutely. But it comes at a cost and then you have to start to say at what cost does it not make sense any more, and that’s what we’re looking at.”

Committee co-chair Rep. David Steffen says worried residents contact him every day.

“I have a constituent who owns a small piano shop. He has to keep everything at a climate controlled environment – very expensive. When he heard about 19 percent potential increases on his rate, he said David, that’s going to shutter my business. My wife and I will no longer have our company,” Steffen says.

Critics and supporters alike expect to see a modified EPA plan when it’s released later this year.

In the meantime, the agency says the public will have “continued opportunities” to comment.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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