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Supporters and opponents in Missouri weigh in on Obama's 'Clean Power Plan'

Ameren Missouri's largest coal-fired power plant in Labadie, Missouri.
File photo | Veronique LaCapra I St. Louis Public Radio
Ameren’s 2,400-megawatt plant near Labadie, Missouri, is the state’s largest coal-fired power plant. (Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio)

Environmental advocates are praising the new Clean Power Plan announced Monday by President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency. Business groups are critical.

The new rule is designed to cut emissions by 32 percent by the year 2030, based on levels recorded in 2005, and it will use state-by-state targets to implement the emissions cuts, with states having flexibility in how to reach the goals. In a statement that included its outline of the plan's components, the White House said, "The Clean Power Plan establishes the first-ever national standards to limit carbon pollution from power plants."

John Hickey is director of the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club.  He says the new rule will especially benefit St. Louis.

"The St. Louis area has very bad air pollution, much of it driven by coal-fired power plants that ring the metro area," Hickey said.  "We see a heavy public health price that we're paying, in terms of children and adults with asthma, strokes, premature heart attacks, etc."

He adds that Missouri relies too heavily on coal imported from Wyoming.

"We are spending literally billions of dollars every year, that we send from Missouri to Wyoming, to buy coal," Hickey said.  "By switching to energy efficiency and wind and solar (power), we will be creating jobs here locally ... the Clean Power Plan will be a much better job generator for our community than our current reliance on out-of-state coal."

A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) states that Missouri could create up to 3,900 new jobs and save $363 million on power bills by the year 2020 if it "ramps up" its use of renewable power and energy efficiency.

The Missouri Clean Energy Coalition also celebrates the new rule in a brief statement:

"The Clean Power Plan is an opportunity for Missouri to reduce carbon pollution that is contributing to climate disruption, make it easier for people to breathe, and further grow our clean energy economy. A recent report found that more than 40,000 people are employed in Missouri's clean energy economy, which is expected to grow by 7 percent in 2015, and adopting a strong clean power plan can accelerate that growth.The Harvard School of Public Health estimates that 1,200 Missouri lives will be saved as result of the Clean Power Plan."

In response, Associated Industries of Missouri calls the new rule "an unprecedented intrusion" that "will increase costs for small businesses, manufacturers, and households."

"Eighty-two percent of our energy is generated from coal right now, so to change to any other fuel source is going to be more expensive," said Associated Industries of Missouri CEO Ray McCarty.  "Of course, you have to accommodate the (power) plants to be able to do that, and that will also be a cost that consumers must bear."

McCarty also said the NRDC report is based on flawed data.

"Particularly the renewable fuels are extremely expensive right now, that's why they aren't able to stand on their own without government subsidies," McCarty said.  "As (renewable fuels) are employed, of course there are savings once you're able to employ them, but they're extremely expensive to employ."

In addition, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., blasted the adoption of the rule, calling it a "harmful power grab" in a written statement:

"Middle and low-income families are hit the hardest by bad energy policies resulting in higher utility bills, as these families already spend a larger part of their paycheck on their energy bills.  Electric service providers in Missouri have warned that the EPA's so-called Clean Power Plan will raise energy costs for Missourians, reduce jobs, and hurt our state's economic competitiveness. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I've fought hard to ensure provisions that would defund this harmful power grab were included in the final appropriations bill. I also support legislation to block this harmful rule and protect workers and families from the damaging effects of the Obama Administration's executive overreach and costly energy regulations. I'll continue to fight this misguided Clean Power Plan, and protect families, workers, and consumers in Missouri and nationwide."

Meanwhile, Ameren officials are keeping their cards close to the vest.  CEO Warner Baxter said in a lengthy written statement that they are withholding comment until they've analyzed the new rule's impact.  It reads in part:

"Ameren is committed to transitioning to a cleaner, more diverse generation portfolio in a responsible fashion.  For years, we have been taking steps to execute a 20-year integrated resource plan in Missouri that accomplishes this objective, achieves substantial carbon emission reductions consistent with the EPA's originally proposed Clean Power Plan goals and, importantly, seeks to minimize the impact on our customers' rates without straining the electric grid.  Those steps have included adding renewable energy to our generation portfolio, extending the nuclear operating license at our Callaway Energy Center and providing a robust and effective set of energy efficiency programs to our customers.  These actions, among others, have helped us provide our customers with electric rates and reliability that are among the best in the country. Today, the EPA issued the final rules associated with the Clean Power Plan.  These rules will have significant long-term energy policy implications for Missouri, Illinois and our nation.  The rules are extensive and complex, so it is premature for us to comment until we have analyzed their impact on our 20-year energy plan, our operations, and ultimately our customers.  Once we have completed our analysis, we will share our perspectives.  We look forward to working with key stakeholders to assess and most effectively address the impact of these rules."

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.