DEP holds listening session on clean power plan


Exelon Corporation, a national company that operates 12 fossil power plants, one hydroelectric plant, two landfill gas plants and three nuclear power plants, including Three Mile Island and Peach Bottom, was well represented at Monday's DEP listening session on the EPA's clean power plan.

The plan aims to cut the nation's carbon emissions to a rate that's 32 percent lower than they were a decade ago by 2030.

After 14 public listening sessions, of which York's was the eighth, and a public comment period that ends Nov. 12, the agency will draft a clean power plan that will put Pennsylvania on a path to compliance with the federal clean power plan, DEP Secretary John Quigley said in his opening comments.

Several Exelon employees, including Jeannie Liggett, senior manager of government affairs at the company, stressed that nuclear energy is carbon-free and should be supported.

Liggett said that nuclear power is the "lynchpin" of Pennsylvania's transition to clean power.

She also said that because of the "absence of market mechanisms" to value carbon-free energy, Three Mile Island faces "economic headwinds." She urged the DEP to preserve existing zero-carbon resources, such as nuclear power plants.

Other speakers were less business-oriented.

Environmental justice: Kevin Stewart, Director of Environmental Health at the American Lung Association of the mid-Atlantic, said the changing climate is already affecting the health of Pennsylvanians, citing ground-level ozone, which he called a "serious respiratory irritant," and suggesting the DEP speak with people in vulnerable communities, particularly low-income people who live in polluted environments and face high health risks due to pollution.

Through the listening process, the DEP will focus on "environmental justice" communities, areas where people face disproportionate threats to their health due to environmental factors, Quigley said after the meeting. Ten of the 14 listening sessions will be held in or near environmental justice zones, he said, and the agency is in the process of reestablishing its Office of Environmental Justice.

Mitch Hescox of New Freedom, who is the president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, also looked at the issue from an ethical perspective. He started his comments with a Bible verse and then spoke of increasing rates of childhood asthma and Lyme disease due to climate change and pollution.

Hescox said the state should transition to using renewable energy and address the needs of coal miners who will lose their jobs, providing them with training that will allow them to participate in the production of renewable energy.

He also urged the Wolf administration to reduce fossil-fuel subsidies and funnel the money instead into research into clean power.

David McCullough of East York said he has long been a pastor, at times in coal country, and has seen firsthand the health effects of the coal industry. "I've conducted the funerals of hundreds of people who died too young while defending the was of life that killed them," he said. McCullough advocated a mass-based plan that allows Pennsylvania to trade carbon allowances across state lines.

Ideas and concerns: Representing the York chapter of the Citizens' Climate Lobby, Jon Clark advocated a carbon tax, saying that companies need to face consequences for carbon emissions.

Joy Bergey, clean energy outreach manager for the Partnership for Policy Integrity, expressed concerns about the plan's objective to maintain a variety of power sources.

Bergey was particularly concerned about the burning of biomass—mainly, wood—becoming a replacement for the burning of coal. Though it is sometimes considered a form of clean energy, she said, in addition to degrading forests, burning biomass produces more carbon pollution than coal does.

Against the plan: Anna McCauslin, policy director for Pennsylvania's branch of conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, made claims that rested on the idea that benefits of the clean power plan are 85 years away and "very limited."

McCauslin referred to the plan as "controversial" and expressed her concern that it will cause electricity costs to go up, which she said would hurt low-income families.

"This plan will force tough choices on families," she said, and suggested that because of rising energy costs, her daughter might have to give up her gymnastics classes.

—Reach Julia Scheib at