Trump emissions plan could dirty Minnesota's air, but energy transition continues

The idled Taconite Harbor Energy Center near Schroeder
The Taconite Harbor Energy Center, a coal-fired plant owned by Minnesota Power, sits idle on the north shore of Lake Superior on Nov. 13, 2016. Utilities in Minnesota have been transitioning away from coal-fired power as the price of natural gas, wind and solar drop.
Elizabeth Dunbar | MPR News 2016

A new plan announced Tuesday by the Trump administration to turn the regulations of carbon emissions over to individual states won't likely affect the way Minnesota gets its power in the future.

The new plan, called the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, would replace President Obama's Clean Power Plan, which was the U.S. response to efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions as part of the 2015 climate agreement in Paris.

Under the Clean Power Plan, Minnesota wasn't expected to see much impact because the state's utilities had already begun phasing out coal, mostly for economic reasons. But other states could have faced earlier retirements for coal-fired power plants under the Obama-era plan.

While the new Trump plan announced Tuesday likely won't affect Minnesota's power plants, it could increase overall air pollution in the state if other states opt to burn more coal, said David Thornton, assistant commissioner with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

"If it's a step anywhere, it's a step backwards," Thornton said, adding that reducing carbon emissions also reduces other air pollutants that are harmful to people's health.

But it's also possible Trump's new plan will lead to no changes in planned coal plant retirements.

"It's possible that the market has moved so far that this plan isn't going to substantially slow down progress, but it's clearly not going to inspire anything," Thornton said.

Except for maybe lawsuits. Many states sued the federal government after the Clean Power Plan was announced, and environmental groups and states are expected to do the same on the Affordable Clean Energy Rule.

Thornton said MPCA officials are still looking at the details of the new rule before deciding whether or how Minnesota should respond.

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