NY carbon goals among the most ambitious

John Ferro
New York's goals are a 44 percent reduction of carbon per unit of energy from levels in 2012.

For New York to achieve its goals in the Obama administration's plan to reduce carbon emission from power plants, the state will have to do more than cut back on dirty fuels. The EPA on Monday released its plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030, as compared to levels in 2005.

Power plants are the largest contributors of carbon to the atmosphere. And coal-fired plants are the dirtiest, responsible not just for large volumes of the heat-trapping gas that is a leading contributor to climate change, but also for smog and soot.

Addressing global warming and climate change is going to require taking drastic measures soon," said Dr. Kari Reiber, commissioner of the Dutchess County Health Department. "I can only applaud the EPA initiative and hope it is enough."

Under the plan, which is sure to be challenged legally and legislatively, each state has specific goals to meet.

New York's goals are among the most ambitious, a 44 percent reduction of carbon per unit of energy from levels in 2012.

The state produces just 3 percent of its power from coal-fired power plants, according to the EPA.

Nearly three-quarters of the state's electricity comes from natural gas (44 percent) and nuclear sources (30 percent). Hydro-electric plants account for another 18 percent.

"The target for New York is ambitious not because we are generating a lot of power in dirty ways, but because there is so much use," said William Schlesinger, president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook.

Schlesinger said a key element of the proposal is to emphasize, and give credit for, steps that increase efficiencies in energy generation, transmission and final usage.

"There is a lot of untapped potential in the energy-efficiency approach," he said. "That will undoubtedly be a cornerstone of what New York will do to adhere to the new standards."

The move to find cleaner energy sources is sure to highlight a longstanding battle-line along the Hudson River.

In unveiling the plan Monday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said many companies in the energy sector are seeing "the writing on the wall" and already taking steps to increase efficiency.

McCarthy praised Entergy for "weaving climate considerations into business plans."

The company owns two nuclear plants in New York — Indian Point in Westchester County and Fitzpatrick in Oswego County.

Entergy said that in 2000, it became the first U.S. utility to place a voluntary cap on its carbon emissions, one that currently stands at 20 percent below 2000 emission levels.

"We believe that Entergy's nuclear facilities … will be essential components of the state's plan for compliance with this rule," Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi said, "as those facilities provide around-the-clock, base-load power with virtually zero carbon emissions."

The company did not specifically praise the EPA's plan, saying it is reviewing the proposal.

But local environmental nonprofits say nuclear energy poses too many other risks to be a viable alternative.

"Indian Point is old, dangerous and not needed," said Tina Posterli, spokeswoman for the Ossining-based environmental nonprofit group Riverkeeper. "There are cleaner, safer ways to power New York."

Posterli said the threat of earthquakes, the lack of a "real" evacuation plan, radioactive waste on site and impacts to the Hudson River outweigh the benefit of the plant's lower carbon footprint.

"The best thing for climate change is to increase energy efficiency and use renewable sources that don't put us at risk like Indian Point does," she said.

Though New York has ambitious goals, the EPA said states can get credit for actions they've already taken, lest they be punished for taking early action.

New York is among nine states already cutting greenhouse gases from power plants that say proposed federal guidelines for future national reductions are welcome.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which sets pollution caps and requires using or buying credits to exceed them, says its states collectively have reduced carbon dioxide emissions from electrical generation by 40 percent since 2005.

New York officials said they were studying the 2,000-page federal draft, declining to immediately comment.

The state is part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and welcomed Monday's federal proposal. The other RGGI states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

"The RGGI states will continue to review the proposed rule, and applaud EPA's recognition of regional, market-based programs," the group said.

Scenic Hudson, the Poughkeepsie-based environmental nonprofit group, applauded the plan.

"We believe these measures will have enormous benefits to the health of the Hudson Valley's people, environment and economy," said Sacha Spector, Scenic Hudson's director of conservation science. "We also strongly support this step to reduce our nation's carbon pollution in order to minimize rising sea levels and other global-warming impacts the region is already facing."

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