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September 24, 2013

How a new Rothfus bill could relax regulations at local coal plants

— Four Pennsylvania congressmen, led by U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, want to exclude certain coal refuse-to-energy power plants from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards pertaining to emission limits for hydrogen chloride and sulfur dioxide.

Rothfus, a first-term representative from the 12th district, introduced the legislation, named the Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment Act of 2013, last week. Three other Republicans from the commonwealth’s delegation – Reps. Charlie Dent, Lou Barletta and Glenn Thompson – signed on as original co-sponsors.

It has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

They feel the SENSE Act, if passed, would benefit stations that use circulating fluidized bed technology to convert coal refuse into energy, including several in the local area: Cambria Cogeneration Co., Colver Power Project, Ebensburg Power Co. and Robindale Energy Services.

“We want to try to keep some power plants in operation,” said Rothfus. “It’s good middle-class jobs. It’s helping keep electricity rates down. It also affects the grid sustainability. We need to make sure that the power grid is sustainable. You do that with making sure that we have coal-generated electricity as part of the mix.”

Rothfus believes the plants have benefited communities in multiple ways, such as having the private sector pay for the cost of removing the environmentally hazardous waste piles and creating jobs.

“It’s really an environmental success story. ... Unfortunately, with some of the new EPA regulations, progress like that will be halted,” said Rothfus.

The proposed legislation would exempt electric utility steam generating units that are in operation at the date of the act’s enactment, use circulating fluidized bed technology and derive at least 75 percent of their heat input from coal refuse. It is supported by the Anthracite Region Independent Power Producers Association.

“This legislation would provide relief from the unattainable HCl/SO2 emission limitation in MATS for existing CFB facilities that convert coal refuse into alternative energy,” said Jeff McNelly, executive director of ARIPPA. “Passage of this common-sense legislation would prevent a shutdown of our industry. More importantly, it would also serve the interests of all Americans by preserving the significant environmental benefits that these facilities provide at no cost to taxpayers, while supplying an important source of alternative energy.”

The EPA, at its website, promotes MATS as guidelines that “will improve people’s health by requiring power plants that contribute to air pollution in Pennsylvania to use widely available, proven pollution control technologies to protect families from pollutants like mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases.”

It claims the standards will prevent 530 premature deaths and create up to $4.4 billion in health benefits statewide in 2016.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.

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