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PSC member: new EPA plan will drive up power costs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Top elected officials in Louisiana objected Monday to the Obama administration's plan to limit carbon dioxide pollution from electric power plants, with one member of the Public Service Commission recommending a lawsuit to block it.

Clyde Holloway, who called for the PSC lawsuit, said the plan would drive up the cost of electricity in Louisiana, which had the nation's lowest average retail rate in 2012.

Gov. Bobby Jindal and both of Louisiana's U.S. senators also criticized the Environmental Protection Agency plan, which calls for Louisiana to cut carbon emissions from power plants by nearly 40 percent — from 1,466 pounds per megawatt-hour in 2012 to 833 pounds per megawatt-hour in 2030.

"President Obama does not understand the American economy," Jindal said. He said the proposed regulations would shut down hundreds of power plants nationwide and increase electricity costs.

Congress, not the EPA, should set terms and goals for reducing carbon, said Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu. "Greater use of natural gas and stronger efficiency measures adopted by the industry have already helped us reduce carbon emissions to their lowest levels in 20 years, and this should continue," she said.

Republican Sen. David Vitter said, "This rule is all pain, no gain." Because other countries spew out more pollution, he said, "American families and businesses will have to shoulder all the costs and burden from this rule without contributing to any significant reduction in global carbon emissions."

Holloway said a PSC lawsuit would need approval by at least three of the five elected members.

Louisiana has six coal-fired generating plants. The state has been moving to cleaner natural gas for its power, Holloway said.

According to the EPA, Louisiana got just under 21 percent of its power from coal in 2012. Natural gas plants accounted for nearly 58 percent of its power, nuclear 15 percent, petroleum nearly 3 percent and biomass about 2.3 percent, according to the agency.

Casey DeMoss, CEO of the nonprofit Alliance for Affordable Energy, offered more recent figures.

Utility filings through November 2013 indicate that nearly 75 percent of the power generated in Louisiana is from natural gas, with coal providing 12.6 percent and pet coke another 3.7 percent, nuclear plants 7.9 percent, and less than 1 percent each from hydroelectric, wood waste and fuel oil, she said.

The proposed rules "will likely boost Louisiana's natural gas industry, improve public health, and safeguard our coast," she said in a news release praising the EPA's plan.

She praised EPA for letting each state choose how to meet its goals and wrote, "Even if the cost of coal doubled, Louisiana ratepayers will not see much of an increase."

Cleco Corp., which has three coal plants in Louisiana, is still reviewing the 645-page document, spokeswoman Robbyn Cooper said.

NRG Energy Inc., which has one coal plant, said significant cuts in domestic and global greenhouse gas emissions are essential for businesses and the economy. However, it said in a prepared statement that EPA's emission targets could derail those objectives, make electricity less reliable and harm consumers.

NRG subsidiary Louisiana Generating said in November 2012 that it was switching one of three units at its coal-fired Big Cajun II plant to natural gas to meet federal mercury emissions standards scheduled to take effect in 2015.

Entergy Corp. has two coal plants, one in Westlake, near Lake Charles, and one in Arkansas. Together they provide about 10 percent of the power the company provides in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas, said Chuck Barlow, vice president of environmental strategy and policy.

He said the utility voluntarily capped its carbon dioxide emissions in 2000 and has since cut emissions by 42 percent, largely by shifting from older to newer natural gas plants and buying and improving nuclear plants.

"We think we are in a good position because we have a lot of nuclear, a lot of gas and a little bit of coal," Barlow said.

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