During an exclusive interview with Living with Energy in Iowa magazine prior to appearing before almost 500 electric cooperative directors, employees and guests at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives in Des Moines last month, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s message was clear: The EPA wants to be a partner with electric cooperatives, not an adversary.
He stressed that it’s time to get back to the basics of national energy policy. That means letting utilities, including electric cooperatives, make informed business decisions about how to best generate electricity in a way that achieves good outcomes for the environment.
On March 28, President Trump signed an executive order that called for a review of the Clean Power Plan. In conjunction with this review, Administrator Pruitt launched a Back-to-Basics Agenda, focusing on three E’s related to energy policy: protecting the environment, providing sensible regulations that allow economic growth, and engaging with state and local partners.
“The past 8 years of agency leadership have been about regulatory uncertainty, which has impeded economic growth,” Pruitt said. “Under the Clean Power Plan, the agency adopted coercive rules that dictated policy to states, including electric cooperatives, about how they should generate electricity with little regard to consumers. When it came to generation sources such as coal, natural gas, wind or solar, it became about picking winners and losers. That is not the role of the EPA.”
According to Pruitt, the EPA’s role is to evaluate environmental pollutants, determine how to regulate them under the Clean Air Act, set emission levels and let utility companies make informed business decisions based on those policies.
“It’s time to give power back to the people,” Pruitt added. “The EPA should not be telling electric cooperatives that one type of generating source is better than the other. It’s the role of the cooperative to select generation based on stability, low cost and long-term resiliency for consumers.”
Focus on stewardship
In recent years, Pruitt believes that environmental policies have focused on telling utilities that they can’t use practical, fossil-fueled generation – including coal or natural gas.
“Americans need to reject the notice that true environmentalism is prohibition. True environmentalism is stewardship,” he said. “We’ve been blessed with tremendous natural resources from coal to natural gas – and in some areas, such as Iowa, wind generation. It’s our obligation to use and manage those resources with a stewardship mindset – not a prohibition mindset.”
For Iowans with deep roots in agriculture, it’s a natural fit – and a message Pruitt hopes that co-op member-owners will spread.
“Farmers were essentially the first conservationists and environmentalists in the way they care for the land and livestock,” he said. “For farmers, the land is their greatest asset, which is why they need to use it while nurturing and cultivating it. The same is true for our natural generation resources; we need to stop putting fences around them.”
Emphasize fuel diversity
We shouldn’t feel like we must choose renewables over fossil fuels, Pruitt continued. Instead, it’s about creating fuel diversity that considers first and foremost what’s important to consumers: a stable, low-cost and resilient supply of power.
Renewables are part of his energy philosophy when combined with traditional baseload sources of power that operate around-the-clock. By definition, solar and wind are intermittent sources of power. Are they sources that should be used to supplement coal and natural gas? Absolutely, Pruitt said.
“However, it’s fanciful to think all of the power needed to ensure a high quality of life can be generated from intermittent sources.”
Here are the next steps
As the EPA works to repeal and replace the Clean Power Plan, the agency is focused on getting back to its core mission, which includes making it a priority to see if progress is being made to improve air and water quality.
“We need to create a baseline where we are today, and then focus on results and actual achievements,” Pruitt concluded. “There is so much opportunity to improve, and we must let states lead the way in a manner that actually works for Americans.”
Source: Ann Thelen