Illinois EPA's Scott says states must influence federal policy on global warming

With several states having already created standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Illinois joins the ranks with a new emissions-reduction proposal by Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). During today's OnPoint, Illinois EPA Director Doug Scott discusses the proposal and Illinois' participation in the Chicago Climate Exchange. He talks about his state's controversial approval of a new coal-fired power plant. Scott also discusses state regulation of power plants and vehicle emissions.


Darren Samuelsohn: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Darren Samuelsohn. Joining me today in Washington is Doug Scott, the director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Scott thanks for coming on the program.

Doug Scott: Well thanks for having me on. It's good to be here.

Darren Samuelsohn: Your boss, Governor Rod Blagojevich, just announced a big climate change plan for the state of Illinois. What's the plan?

Doug Scott: Well, it's basically a twofold plan. First is to create a climate change advisory council that will make recommendations to him, by June of next year, as to what steps Illinois should take with respect to climate change going forward. He appointed me as chair of that, and we'll have, obviously, representatives from all the sectors that would be affected by those plans. Secondly, just as a show of good faith and that Illinois is putting its money where its mouth is, the executive order also enabled us to join the Chicago Climate Exchange, with respect to state buildings and state facilities. Thereby, we're saying that we're going to be reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, as well as looking at what can be done outside of state government.

Darren Samuelsohn: And how many emissions are we talking about for these buildings and these ...

Doug Scott: Well, the state buildings don't have a tremendous amount of emissions for it. And, again, to join the Climate Exchange you're looking at a 6 percent reduction between 1998 and 2001 levels, as compared to 2010. So it's not a tremendous reduction, although it is, you know, I mean anything helps. But we think it's more significant in terms of if we're going to be looking at further climate change actions in the future, that it makes sense for Illinois to be able to show that our house is in order as well.

Darren Samuelsohn: Why not go after, I guess, the big motor vehicles and the private power plants now?

Doug Scott: Well, I think that maybe something that's coming. And that's part of what this task force is designed to do, as well as back in August the governor announced an energy independence plan that not only talks about promoting more fuels and more home-grown fuels, and doing things like IGCC and promoting that, but, at the same time, also created a task force, one on clean cars, one on the IGCC, and one specifically looking at power sources. So those are all part of it. And what we don't want to do is pre-judge and, say, take away the role of trying to get all of the input that we can from all the different sectors by saying, well, here's what we think our plan ought to be. We'd like to have some significant recommendations from people in Illinois before we make those steps.

Darren Samuelsohn: How much thought has gone into regulating power plants and regulating motor vehicles in the state up to this point?

Doug Scott: Well, quite a bit. And, you know, we've talked before about the governor's efforts with respect to mercury. And its part of the solution to the governor having what we think is among the more aggressive mercury reduction programs in the country, with respect to power plants. Part of that also had a solution for companies to be able to opt-in by also significantly reducing nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. So these discussions that talk about reducing the pollutants coming from power plants have been ongoing and have really taken a step up in the last couple of years. With respect cars, we obviously know what's happened with California, and we know what's happened in other states. We've actually joined in the fight to allow states to be able to regulate cars as they see fit, in the court action that's going on.

Darren Samuelsohn: In the Supreme Court?

Doug Scott: In the Supreme Court. We've signed on as one of the states that are trying to help along that battle. So obviously, it's something that we've thought about and will continue to as these task forces move forward.

Darren Samuelsohn: Do you think eventually we might see Illinois join up with the regional greenhouse gas program in the Northeast, or with California in the West?

Doug Scott: Well, it's interesting. I'm trying to talk to folks in California. I'm going out there very soon to meet with California officials. We've obviously talked to RGI officials over the last few years, and trying to find out how all of those programs can connect. Some talk about reduction of more pollutants than others do. The timelines are different. So trying to figure out how we can fit those things together is going to be one challenge, but again, that's part of what I think we're going to develop through my committee over the next six months.

Darren Samuelsohn: Are you talking to other Midwestern states, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana?

Doug Scott: Yeah, we are. The governor, back in 2005, through his chairmanship of the Midwest Governors Association, wanted to initiate talks along the same lines where we think the OTC has been successful in the northeastern states. And that's in trying to work together on trying to come up with some limits on different pollutants. And so we've had many discussions with members in the Midwest. We also then started to take our Midwestern group and meet with the OTC folks as well, kind of creating a super region. Texas called us and said, you know, we'd like to be part of that as well. And so we really put together a region looking at, and this isn't so much greenhouse gas, as much as it is some of the other pollutants from power companies, as well as other sources. We've really got something that amounts to more than half the United States, in terms of population, that's meeting to talk about these issues, trying to set some realistic goals for kind of a beyond care strategy. What would that look like? As well as starting the conversation. So I think the framework is already there, for us in the Midwest, to talk not only with each other, but also to talk to other parts of the country.

Darren Samuelsohn: Do you think that you can influence federal policy on climate change?

Doug Scott: Absolutely. And I not only think we can, but I think we have to. And I think that's part of the goal of RGI. I think that's part of the goal of what's going on in California now. Other states like Arizona, where the governor has just taken some steps. I think that's part of it. I think all of us believe, that are starting to work on these issues, that a national strategy is the one that makes the most sense and works the best. But failing that, governors have shown, certainly Governor Blagojevich in Illinois and other governors, have shown their willingness to step out and lead on this particular issue with the hope, I think, of trying to drive federal policy. And, again, it's all tied up in elections and everything else.

Darren Samuelsohn: That's my next question. Governor Blagojevich is in a campaign right now for re-election.

Doug Scott: Yes, yes.

Darren Samuelsohn: How much of this, you know, energy policy, climate policy, is being driven by this campaign?

Doug Scott: Well, I don't think very much is being driven by the campaign. Governor Blagojevich, from the time he's come into office, back three-and-a-half years ago now, has really been working very strongly on environmental issues. He's redone the state's fleet, so that we're buying cars that can run on flexible fuel. We reduced the amount of our energy usage in state buildings dramatically, and all those things have kind of fit in now to join in the Climate Exchange as a logical extension of that. So all of these kinds of steps, we created a system whereby farmers can aggregate credits for good practices such as no-till and low-till, planting trees and other things, where they can aggregate those credits and sell them on the Chicago Climate Exchange. So the governor's been very proactive about these issues. The mercury rules are another great example. And what he did last year, with respect to the regional initiative. So there's a long laundry list of things where Governor Blagojevich has been very proactive. And so no, I don't think it has much to do with the campaign, but it is a nice way to tell people, going forward in a second term, you know, here are the things that you're going to expect, here are the things that we're going to look at. And I think that's good for the voters as they go to the polls next month.

Darren Samuelsohn: The governor's administration has come under fire from environmental groups for approving one new coal-fired plant down east of St. Louis, about 50 miles away. It's one of the biggest that's out there on the drawing books. I think some environmentalists are saying it could be potentially the largest source of CO2 emissions, if it was built in the future.

Doug Scott: Right.

Darren Samuelsohn: How does that square with the climate policy going forward?

Doug Scott: Well, I think what we're trying to do in Illinois, and again, we have a unique situation because in addition to all of the things that we're trying to do with respect to the environment, we're also sitting on 12 percent of the nation's coal reserves, over about 38 billion tons of coal that are sitting in Illinois. And part of what we're trying to do is help to develop those cleaner coal technologies. The Peabody plant, the Prairie State facility that you referenced, obviously, in terms of how it's going to run in terms of its efficiency being new and the technology that's there and what it came through us to get permitted, is going to be among the more efficient plants in the country. So obviously we're due the emissions from there. I understand those arguments, but at the same time, having a newer plant like the Prairie State will allow some other plants to retire, and thereby take some of the dirtier coal off of the market as well. And in addition to that, obviously, now the governor has made a strong commitment in his energy plan back in August to invest in IGCC, committing $1 billion of state money to help in the construction of 10 new IGCC plants.

Darren Samuelsohn: In the state of Illinois?

Doug Scott: In the state of Illinois. So what we're trying to do is make sure that we're not ignoring the fact that we're sitting on major coal reserves, and acknowledge the major role that that plays in the economic development in southern Illinois. And at the same time, try to integrate those technologies into the overall environmental plans.

Darren Samuelsohn: But for these dozen, I think there's about a dozen plants in Illinois that are kind of on the drawing books. I think Illinois is second, compared to Texas in terms of new coal plants. How many of those would be IGCC? Do you have any sense going forward?

Doug Scott: Well, I don't know that there's going to be a lot of new coal plants going forward. There was another plant that the EAB just sent the permit back and asked us to relook at certain things there. And that, aside from what's happening with Prairie State and one that's being built by Central Water, Light and Power in Springfield, it's actually a municipal utility, you're not talking about a whole lot of other new plants that really are at a stage where it's going to happen. My guess is that in the future you're going to see IGCC be much more prevalent. And, again, the state is offering to make a substantial financial commitment to make sure that happens. We've really seen what other states have seen, in that you've got a couple of good examples of IGCC operating in Florida and in Indiana. But until the last couple of years you haven't seen major investors willing to take that step. I think they are now, and so I think you're going to see that going forward.

Darren Samuelsohn: Illinois is also in the running for FutureGen ...

Doug Scott: Yes, absolutely.

Darren Samuelsohn: ... with the state of Texas. What's your sense on how that's going to play out?

Doug Scott: I don't know, and if I knew I could probably do something very good with that. But we feel very good about our sites. We have two sites, as does Texas. We feel very good about it for a few reasons. Our location in the country we think is very good for us, the transportation network, both rail and roads that can service those sites, as well as, as I mentioned earlier, the tremendous amount of coal reserves that we have in Illinois. So there's a lot to recommend Illinois and I'm sure that Texas officials think the same thing. But we're working very hard, as an administration, to try to push those sites for FutureGen.

Darren Samuelsohn: And if Illinois doesn't win out on this process, this President Bush proposal, what goes forward? Do you think there would be FutureGen-like plants still that would get funded?

Doug Scott: Well, I think so. And I mentioned earlier, that the governor has a strong commitment to investing in advanced technologies. I'm what the governor has said is if we don't get the FutureGen, we know at least we've got both the two sites that are finalists, as well as two other sites that we put forward that we think would make great sites for that kind of advanced technology that I was referring to earlier. As well as the governor thinks he can do this with private dollars, and we're very hopeful of that, but to also build a pipeline to help sequester CO2. And then also to not only sequester it, but then to use that to help with oil and gas reserves that are in Illinois, that are trapped and could use that CO2 to help force them up as well.

Darren Samuelsohn: OK, well Doug, certainly Illinois is at the center of the debate on energy and environmental policy going forward. Thanks so much for coming on the program.

Doug Scott: Thanks very much for having me. I appreciate it.

Darren Samuelsohn: Until next time, this is Darren Samuelsohn for another edition of OnPoint. Thanks for watching.

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