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Mike Nowatzki, Forum News Service, Published April 16 2014

Bismarck summit to focus on response to EPA emission rules

BISMARCK – Officials from more than 20 states, the energy industry and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have descended on Bismarck to see if they can reach consensus on how to respond to proposed federal rules to curb emissions from power plants and petroleum refineries.

EPA Region 8 Administrator Shaun McGrath is among those attending Wednesday’s Energy-Producing States Summit, organized by the North Dakota Department of Health and Basin Electric Power Cooperative.

The EPA proposed new standards in September that would restrict carbon dioxide emissions from new coal-fired power plants to 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour – less than half the current average of about 2,250 pounds per megawatt hour for coal-fired plants, including North Dakota’s seven plants. The public comment period on the proposal ends May 9.

Proposed standards for existing power plants will be issued by June. The EPA is scheduled to publish a final rule in June 2015, with states’ plans to meet those standards due by June 2016.

Wednesday’s summit aims to give representatives from 21 states and the District of Columbia an idea of how to respond to – or implement – the proposed changes to the federal Clean Air Act.

The hope is that the states will find common ground and possibly form a coalition of energy-producing states to provide the EPA with a perspective “that differs considerably from that of state coalitions on the east and west coasts,” Mike Eggl, senior vice president of communications and administration at Bismarck-based Basin Electric, stated in a news release.

The EPA’s proposed emission rules have become a target of coal-state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

Last month, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp announced legislation that would provide several incentives for companies to invest in technologies to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired plants. A separate bill introduced by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., would require congressional approval of any EPA-proposed rule for existing coal-fired power plants and establish specific guidelines for developing emissions standards for new power plants.

At Heitkamp’s invitation, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy visited North Dakota on Feb. 28 to meet with representatives of the state’s coal and ethanol industries, saying she wanted to understand “both the intended and unintended consequences of our actions.”