INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana's start on converting coal plants to natural gas and taking other aging facilities off line could help the overwhelmingly coal-dependent state meet a new federal goal of reducing its carbon emissions by 2030. But state officials are keeping a wary eye on how the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency targets will affect manufacturing in the highly industrial state.
The EPA on Monday gave Indiana three years to come up with a plan to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent over the next 16 years as part of a sweeping national initiative to curb pollutants blamed for global warming.
Indiana's target presents a challenge in a state, sitting atop a major vein of coal, where more than 80 percent of power is produced by coal. But the EPA gave Indiana credit for already taking steps to reduce carbon emissions, such as encouraging utilities to set renewable energy standards, and environmental activists say they believe the goal can be accomplished.
"I think that meeting EPA's goals is doable for Indiana, and it's a challenge we really have to take on," said Jodi Perras, Indiana's representative for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.
Doug Gotham of the State Utility Forecasting Group, a state-funded, Purdue University research group, said moves that utilities are already making, like replacing aging coal-fired plants with ones that burn cleaner natural gas, will help Indiana move in the right direction to meet the 2030 goals.
But Gov. Mike Pence and a state manufacturers' group fear the tougher standards will chill the state's business climate. Pence vowed to oppose the regulations, saying in a statement that they would cost the state jobs and business growth and result in higher electricity rates.
Perras, however, said the changes have the potential to generate "green" jobs like manufacturing energy-efficient insulation, producing and installing wind turbines and solar panels, and other industries.
Tim Rushenberg, vice president for governmental affairs and tax policy for the Indiana Manufacturers Association, agreed that utilities already are making the switch away from coal in places like Indianapolis, where Indianapolis Power & Light is converting two coal-fired plants to natural gas. But he said he feared the new requirements "will stunt the growth of our Indiana manufacturing center."
When energy costs rise, businesses must cut costs elsewhere to make ends meet, he said.
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