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Proposed EPA Rules Get Missouri Lawmakers Talking About Carbon Emissions

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri lawmakers are sounding off on proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules aimed at reducing carbon emissions.  

The proposed rules effectively provide individual states with options to reduce carbon emissions by 2030. These options include making facilities more energy efficient, investing in alternative energy sources like solar and wind power, or joining other states in “cap and trade” programs.

It should be noted at the outset that the rules are still in their public comment period. It's also highly likely they'll face litigation. So, it's not a sure thing that lawmakers in Missouri will be pressed into action. However, that's not stopping some policymakers from thinking ahead.

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said Missouri policymakers should use the rules as an opportunity to bolster its renewable energy portfolio. He said Iowa has been successful in make its energy production more diverse, and added that development created thousands of jobs. 

Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City

“I think that we have to understand that in the short run, an investment in these new technologies will make rates go up,” said Holsman, who has long been active in the legislature on renewable energy issues. “But in the long run, when you get a fuel-free power grid, that means you’re not going to have to have fuel adjustment surcharges. You’re not going to have a lot of the health concerns. The amount of money that we spend on extreme weather disaster cleanup, these are factors that aren’t brought into the equation of why the power is cheap and what does that cheap power cost us in the end.”

Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, said he would prefer to focus on making houses and existing power-generating facilities more energy-efficient.   

“Right now, we’ve experienced weeks — or about two weeks — of overcast skies in southwest Missouri. And yet, people still need electricity,” Burlison said. “Everything I’ve read is that a better return on investment is finding ways of becoming more energy efficient. And then once you’ve tried to improve your infrastructure, then if it makes sense -- especially if new technologies become more cost-effective and the prices on solar panels and other things are reduced -- then it makes more sense to move in that direction.”

Realistic views of future policy debates

It’s highly likely that Republicans will control the Missouri General Assembly when and if the EPA rules go into effect. Holsman said he’s concerned that the GOP will simply focus on castigating the proposed rules instead of using them as an impetus to reduce pollution.

Holsman said Republicans would be missing an opportunity if they took a hostile posture to the new rules.

“It will be very easy for that debate to devolve into a whodunnit instead of a what they did or what they’re asking us to do,” said Holsman, who’s long been active on renewable energy issues. “And I think that’s going to shortchange the constituents of Missouri. And ultimately [shortchange] the goal of having greater economic prosperity, better community health and, in the end, trying to address a very significant problem.”

Holsman's suspicion over how the debate will play out seems to already be happening. In an op-ed published in the conservative online newspaper, the Missouri Torch, departing House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said the federal government has “trampled our rights to the point that Americans are supremely frustrated and states are now actively fighting back.” 

Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka

Jones then praised legislation that gives the Missouri Department of Natural Resources the power to develop a plan to reduce carbon emissions. In his op-ed, Jones said that bill – which is currently on Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk – “provides our state the control and flexibility it needs to prevent potentially burdensome federal mandates from driving up prices for consumers.”

Nuclear option?

Burlison said one potential way forward with the proposed rules is to expand the state’s nuclear power portfolio. 

Ameren Missouri's Callaway Nuclear plant
Credit (Ameren Missouri)
Ameren's nuclear power plant in Callaway County

“I’ve really been disappointed that we can’t, as a country, move more towards what I think is a more modern way of creating electricity, which is nuclear power,” Burlison said. “We as a civilization are not going to be able to progress technology with solar and wind.”

Burlison said it was an open question whether producing more nuclear power would be an acceptable option under the proposed EPA rules. He said it should be: “What the EPA is trying to do is reduce carbon emissions. Certainly nuclear would be a vast improvement over other forms.”

Holsman, on the other hand, said there are other places the state could invest its time and energy besides bolstering its nuclear power production.

“What I would like to see is, instead of putting a second reactor at Callaway, which is going to cost somewhere between $8 and $12 billion, why not take that money and put it into R&D [to further develop wind and solar production]?” Holsman said. “That’s where we should be going. Instead of thinking about how we can implement 20th century technology, we need to be investing in research and development for 21st Century production.”

Missouri lawmakers considered separate plans aimed at building another nuclear reactor in Callaway County. Those plans encountered major opposition, especially from large rate-payers concerned about how the cost to build the facility might be passed onto consumers.

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Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.