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Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Wolf's view on EPA proposal uncertain

| Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014, 10:57 p.m.

Federal environmental regulators won't hear from Pennsylvania's governor as they finalize rules to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, though two state agencies made their opposition clear.

While surrounding states joined lawsuits over the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, outgoing Gov. Tom Corbett relied on his Department of Environmental Protection and appointees at the Public Utility Commission to speak for the state.

“As proposed, the Clean Power Plan could leave residential, commercial, and industrial U.S. consumers exposed to less reliable, more expensive, and more volatile electric markets in the future,” the DEP wrote in a 12-page response to the proposal, signed Nov. 26 by Acting Secretary Dana Aunkst.

The plan's targets for renewable energy use and efficiency programs “are not credible and will be unattainable,” the PUC wrote in a 63-page comment dated Monday.

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf, who takes office next month and will implement the rules, did not file comments before the federal deadline at midnight Monday. It's not clear whether he supports the proposal as written.

“Pennsylvania needs flexibility in creating a plan that can be tailored to fit our economic needs. Gov.-elect Wolf knows the rules need to be applied fairly, allow for adjustments, and create opportunities for industries, not additional burdens,” said spokesman Jeff Sheridan.

The EPA received 1.6 million comments as of last week — the most recent tally — on its proposal to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent in the next 16 years. The most comments it received on a rule were the 2.7 million responding to a similar plan to cut emissions from new plants, said spokeswoman Enesta Jones.

The agency has until June to finalize the latest plan, which targets emissions from coal-fired plants that generate about 40 percent of the nation's electricity. Coal companies, related industries and mining states such as Pennsylvania have been the loudest opponents, especially when Pittsburgh hosted two days of public hearings in July and protests gridlocked Downtown streets.

About 400 people testified during those hearings.

Wolf, a Democrat from York who defeated Corbett last month, will need to meet an expected June 2016 deadline for states to tell the EPA how they will implement the rules. He will need to get his plan through a Republican-controlled General Assembly that passed a law requiring legislative approval.

“We're looking forward to working with Wolf during the actual implementation. That's where the rubber meets the road,” said Kim Teplitzky, a Pittsburgh-based spokeswoman for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.

The club this week made public its comments on the EPA plan. Like many environmental groups, it supports the plan and wants even stronger curbs on fossil fuel use.

“The CPP both reflects the changing nature of the utility sector and helps advance the momentum toward cleaner generation that already exists,” the club wrote.

The Pennsylvania agencies said the plan could make that utility sector unstable by forcing coal out of the mix without reliable alternatives. The DEP said it thinks the federal agency is overstepping its authority in trying to regulate fossil fuel-fired plants and in manipulating energy markets to favor renewable sources.

“Because of the potential effects on fuel diversity, energy prices, and other consumer effects, DEP believes such policy decisions are better left to the United States Congress or other elected officials,” the department wrote.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, supports the plan but asked the EPA to consider more flexible rules for Pennsylvania as an energy-producing state. U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, opposes the rules.

At least two pending federal lawsuits challenge the EPA's authority to pass the rules. States including West Virginia and Ohio have joined the lawsuits. New York and Delaware filed a legal brief supporting the EPA.

Corbett signed a September letter to Obama from 15 Republican governors opposing the plan but did not join the lawsuits.

“We chose the route of seeing the public comment period through; if the Obama EPA takes seriously the role of the public comment period, they will give the comments they received their due consideration and hopefully find them persuasive and be willing to change course,” said Corbett's energy executive, Patrick Henderson.

David Conti is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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