Pennsylvania's Democratic senator is criticizing President Barack Obama's proposed climate change rules, urging revisions to a plan that he says imposes unfair costs and burdens on the state.
In a 22-page letter sent Thursday to the Environmental Protection Agency, Sen. Bob Casey makes clear he supports broad goals of combating global warming and agrees an EPA plan is necessary. But Casey said the carbon emissions target for the state is unreasonably high and could lead to higher electricity prices.
"Our Commonwealth powers the electricity needs of states across the mid-Atlantic. We should be treated sensibly and fairly," said Casey, the state's senior senator.
It is Casey's first formal comment on the issue since the EPA released its proposal in June. His position highlights the delicate balancing act ahead for coal-state Democrats caught in the middle between an Obama administration seeking to move aggressively on climate change and leaders of next year's Republican-controlled Congress pledging to curtail the EPA.
Pennsylvania's other senator, Republican Pat Toomey, has already expressed strong opposition to the EPA proposal.
Under the plan, Pennsylvania is required to reduce emissions from power plants by roughly 32 percent by 2030 as part of a broader plan to cut greenhouse gases nationwide. The EPA is now hearing public comment and a final plan is expected by June.
The EPA did not have immediate comment.
In the letter Casey faults the plan as impractical. He said Pennsylvania is being tasked with substantially increasing renewable energy such as wind or solar power, even though federal data show that the state is technically limited compared to other states to do so.
Casey also said the EPA plan fails to credit Pennsylvania for clean power sources such as existing hydropower and nuclear power. And he said the proposal does not take into account the environmental value of Pennsylvania plants that provide energy by burning coal refuse, which otherwise would litter the state's landscape.
Pennsylvania relies on coal for about 40 percent of its electricity, with another 35 percent from nuclear, and 21 percent from natural gas.
"If waste-coal power plants did not exist to remove the legacy coal refuse piles, then greater potential exists for uncontrolled releases of carbon and other harmful air pollution," Casey said, adding that those plants have saved the state's taxpayers between $100 million and $200 million in potential cleanup costs.
He cautioned that the EPA proposal would lead to unfair rate increases for Pennsylvania residents, because electricity suppliers would have to purchase credits from out-of-state wind farms such as in Illinois and Indiana to fulfill renewable energy requirements.
"These expenditures represent a pure cost to Pennsylvania ratepayers," Casey said.
Last week, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who will become majority leader in January, said he believes Democrats will join him next year in his quest to thwart the EPA's efforts to reduce the country's carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Casey hasn't taken a position on any congressional action.
"Coal is an important domestic resource that we cannot simply ignore for the sake of expediency," he said. "We need to keep coal in our energy mix, but in a manner that reduces pollution."