Letters From the West

Simpson, Labrador support bill that helps out-of-state coal plants

The Jim Bridger Coal-fired Power Plant in Wyoming, partially owned by Idaho Power, is one of region's largest greenhouse gas sources

The Jim Bridger Coal-fired Power Plant in Wyoming, partially owned by Idaho Power, is one of region’s largest greenhouse gas sources

Idaho Republican Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador today supported legislation to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations that could affect Idaho Power’s coal plants in Wyoming and Nevada.

The Electricity Security and Affordability Act, would provide require any new regulations are reasonably achievable and economically viable. The bill passed 229-183.

“The Obama Administration clearly wants to use its regulatory agenda to end coal-fired power generation in this country, but that is a pipe dream—coal makes up 40% of our nation’s energy supply, a number that is not likely to significantly decrease in the decades to come,” said Simpson, who chairs the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee. “These proposals would dramatically increase the cost of energy and force consumers to foot the bill.”

The bill would require the EPA to establish separate greenhouse gas standards for natural gas and coal-fired plants, and it would ensure that any standards for coal-fire plants are based on proven technology and achievable emissions reduction goals. The bill would also repeal EPA’s proposed rules for new power plants.

EPA intends to release draft rules for existing plants this summer. These rules could determine how soon Idaho Power would either retire or pull out its investment in the out-of-state coal plants. Idaho utilities have no coal-fired plants operating in the state.

Idaho Power already has announced the Boardman coal plant it shares with an Oregon will close early because of required pollution controls.

“One of my biggest concerns with the EPA’s greenhouse gas proposals is that they depend on unproven—or in some cases non-existent—technology to achieve reductions in emissions,” Simpson said. “we need to continue working to develop technologies to produce cleaner coal energy, as well as clean, alternative fuels. Achieving sustainable energy independence will require looking at all the options, including renewable energy, nuclear energy, and cleaner traditional energy sources.”

Supporters of President Obama’s new coal plant regulations say they will help continue the shift away from coal that has already started to natural gas, such as Idaho Power’s Langley Gulch plant near New Plymouth. It also will help encourage development of other alternatives such as biofuel electric generation plants already operating in Lewiston.

In December Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s Interim Administrator of the Office of Energy Resources John Chatburn wrote to EPA seeks they abandon the rulemaking.

“Any new regulation that results in the early retirement of power plants is unacceptable to the state of Idaho,” Chatburn said.

But Idaho Conservation League energy attorney Ben Otto say Chatburn is shortsighted and should see the rules as a way to help Idaho’s energy-dependent industries become more profitable and efficient and to create jobs here instead of in Wyoming and Nevada.

“With our vast clean energy resources Idaho stands to gain from necessary regulations that protect the public and environment from carbon pollution,” Otto said. “Idaho’s leaders should focus on our opportunity, instead of picking coal as the winner.”


Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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