President Barack Obama’s climate change announcement Tuesday played as expected among energy officials and environmentalists in Southern Illinois.
One local power plant manager isn’t sure how current coal-burning stations are supposed to hit the lower carbon emission standards Obama wants to achieve, an environmental leader says action is coming none too soon for a planet already seeing the effects of global warming, and both Southern Illinois congressmen say they can’t support the president’s mandate.
The linchpin of Obama’s announcement was his directive to launch the first federal regulations on the amount of carbon dioxide new and current power plants can produce. Secondary objectives are a renewed effort on boosting renewable energy resources, upping efficiency standards and prepping the country to deal with climate change effects some argue have already arrived.
The shift Obama is proposing is tricky, said Tomasz Wiltowski, director of the Coal Research Center at SIU Carbondale, because so many of the older coal-burning power plants are not equipped to reduce carbon emissions, at least not without enduring major expenses.
“It’s costly to up and change the technology, and it’s almost like building it from scratch,” Wiltowski said. “People are always saying to retire those old power plants, but we can’t do it easy because there are always demands for the electricity.”
Wiltowski said the president’s plan to invest $8 billion in making energy resources cleaner and more efficient will have to include ways of improving clean coal technology, as it is questionable whether wind and solar power can keep up with the future demand for electricity.
U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, indicates he’d like to believe the president foresees a future for coal, but it’s not the message he got from Tuesday’s speech.
“While President Obama has stated that he supports an ‘all of the above’ policy that supports all energy sources, today’s announcement proves otherwise because it takes direct aim at coal.”
Coal still makes up the single largest source for today’s domestic electricity supply, Enyart said. Mandates like the one Obama is suggesting would drive up costs on everyone using electricity and ruin what’s left of Southern Illinois’ coal industry, he added.
“And while we all support a clean and sustainable environment, President Obama is ignoring the fact that coal emissions are lower than ever before,” he said.
A statement from U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, indicated the plan was a jobs killer.
“Regulations already being touted by EPA will cost billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs. The president proposed even more restrictions that will hurt Southern Illinois by closing mines and causing electricity rates to rise,” Shimkus said. “There is no way this is helpful to the economy of our nation.”
Tim Reeves, president and general manager of Southern Illinois Power Cooperative, which runs the coal-fueled power plant at Lake of Egypt, said there are few options for his facility, as presently built, to begin reducing the amount of carbon it produces.
The answers, he’s afraid, will be costly to the plant and to electric customers.
“The ultimate answer is we don’t know, and, quite frankly, until they (Obama administration) write the rules we’re not going to know what is going to happen,” Reeves said. “Presently, we know of no way to do it, other than stop burning coal.”
Meanwhile, Barb McKasson, chairwoman of the local Sierra Club chapter, stopping the burning of coal in Southern Illinois wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
“The Sierra Club has been working at least eight years to reduce the amount of coal the U.S. burns, because it is dirty from the time they take it out of the ground until after the time they burn it,” McKasson said. “We personally know people in Southern Illinois who have been very damaged by coal mining. People, whether they know it or not, are being damaged by the soot and the mercury and arsenic that comes from burning coal.”
McKasson hopes the president’s action will spur will inspire people to be better stewards of their community’s local environment.
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