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EPA plan expected to impact Virginia's economy, health

By Katie Demeria

The Environmental Protection Agency's new Clean Power Plan promises to cut the country's carbon emissions by 30 percent before 2030. Some say the impacts on Virginia residents will doubtlessly be positive, while others warn of increased costs.

Mike Aulgur of Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative said that though the EPA announced the plan Monday, it will likely take a year before significant action is taken.

"They made their announcement [Monday], and, from my perspective, I think they're signaling to individuals across the country, as well as investors and businesses, that this is coming, and this is what they want to do," he said.

According to an EPA news release, the agency will work with individual states to implement the plan, adjusting regulations based on each state's situation.

If the regulations are passed in the way they stand now, Aulgur said, the cost of electric service for the cooperative's members will likely increase -- even while the company already takes advantage of alternative fuel sources like solar and wind.

"The EPA will be involved in picking winners and losers, because they're limiting one segment of the market in an effort to bolster another segment," Aulgur said.

"It's been our experience that any time you pick winners and losers, then subsequently costs are increased in one way or another," he continued.

As of now, he said, there is no telling how much costs will increase.

"It's an important discussion, one that needs to be had, and whatever happens we're going to follow the regulations, of course," Aulgur said. "We want to be, and are, good stewards of the community. But that doesn't mean there won't be an additional cost associated with that."

Dave Belote argues that the rules will likely save Virginia residents money in the long run, and those savings may be evident within three to five years.

Belote, a Virginia Beach resident abd retired Air Force colonel, is a member of Environmental Entrepreneurs and has worked on renewable energy policy in the office of the Secretary of Defense.

"Bills will ultimately go down because of the savings from plucking the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency," Belote said.

Based on information gathered by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Belote said Virginias will save $517 million a year on electricity bills by 2020 with the new regulations. That equates to $13.30 cents a month per resident.

The regulations will also spur job creation, he added. Virginians should see about 6,200 new energy efficient jobs.

Those positions, he said, would be lower to higher income.

Dr. Christine Llewellyn, associate professor with Virginia Commonwealth University and director of the Williamsburg Climate Action Network, said reducing carbon emissions will have a significantly positive impact on public health.

Virginia has very poor air quality compared to rest of the country and a high asthma rate among children, Llewellyn said. Though noticeable improvement will take time, she said eventually lowered carbon emissions will lead to better health across age groups.

The intense allergy seasons, asthma rates, as well as premature deaths caused by cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, will all decrease, she said.

"People don't realize how prevalent air pollution is and how far reaching the effects are on our health and our planet," she said. "Coal needs to be in the ground. We need to move on."

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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