Lawmakers: Proposed EPA rules penalize states for nuclear energy capacity

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — State lawmakers expressed concern Wednesday that proposed federal regulations to cut carbon emissions from power plants will hurt Virginia's economic competiveness.

The Senate and House held a joint committee meeting Wednesday to hear from state officials, energy companies and environmentalists on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan.

Lawmakers said the EPA's current target levels for emission cuts penalize Virginia for its robust nuclear energy production. The zero-emission nuclear energy production accounts for 40 percent of the electric energy produced in Virginia.

Legislators said the federal agency's Virginia target rate of carbon emissions per megawatt hour of energy production is unfair in light of the higher target rates the federal agency has set for neighboring states that are more dependent on coal-fired gas plants.

The EPA has set a 2030 target of 810 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted per megawatt hour of electricity generated in Virginia, compared to 1,620 in West Virginia and 1,763 in Kentucky.

"What they've done is said, "Hey, you're better off if you'd been polluting the hell out of the place,'" said Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax County.

Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe expressed similar concerns last week in a letter to the EPA, though he said he supports the plan's goals of lower emissions and noted that the Hampton Roads area is at particular risk of rising sea levels due to climate change.

Lawmakers also said they were concerned about the EPA plan's effect on their constituent's electric bills. Officials at Dominion Resources Inc., the state's largest electric utility, estimated that the cost of complying with the EPA's proposed rules would cause a 30 percent increase for the typical residential customer's bill by 2025.

But Southern Environmental Law Center's Cale Jaffe said an independent analysis conducted on behalf of his organization showed that rates would increase at a much smaller rate under the proposed EPA rules and that customer's bills would actually decrease by about 8 percent by 2030. He said energy efficiency technologies would result in lower household electric consumption and lower bills.

Several environmentalists attended Wednesday's meeting to voice support for greater clean energy production in Virginia.

The EPA is set to issue final rules by next summer.

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