HAMMOND | Indiana's top environmental official on Friday said the president's plan to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants is bad for Hoosier residents and businesses.
"Indiana is based on low-cost electricity," said Indiana Department of Environmental Management Commissioner Tom Easterly. "The economy and the businesses we have are. Having those businesses leave the country is not going to help worldwide greenhouse gas emissions at all and it certainly isn't going to help Hoosiers."
Easterly's comments came during a presentation to the Partners for Clean Air annual kick-off luncheon at Lost Marsh Golf Course in Hammond. The Environmental Protection Agency is calling for stringent rules on new coal-fired power plants and plans to release tougher rules for existing coal-fired plants in June.
Easterly said Obama's plan would create "very expensive changes to our electricity sector," noting Indiana is an energy- and coal-producing state.
"I have serious concerns about how long we're going to be able to run our existing power plants," Easterly said.
Easterly said he believes the plan will increase the cost of doing business in the state, with the costs being passed down to consumers.
"We have a lot of homeowners who can't pay their bills," he said.
Easterly said he has spent the last two weeks traveling the country to meet with other leaders on how states might be able to combat the new standards.
"My concern with this whole process is the president never articulated any goals he's trying to achieve," he said.
At the end of 2009, Indiana met every air quality standard for the first time in the state's history.
"The goal was to get the EPA to recognize this," Easterly said.
One monitor in Zion, Ill., near the Illinois/Wisconsin border exceeded the ozone standard by 0.4 parts per billion in 2012. All of the monitors in Lake and Porter counties met the standard for the same testing period, but because both are evaluated as part of the Chicago metropolitan area and not individually as counties, they were deemed to be in violation of the Clean Air Act along with other Illinois counties.
"Lake and Porter counties met the standard, have met the standard and will continue to meet the standard," Easterly said.
IDEM sued the EPA in 2012 in an effort to exempt Lake and Porter counties from the Chicago monitoring zone. That case is still in the courts, Easterly said Friday.
In LaPorte County, one monitor in Michigan City exceeded the limits for ozone in 2012, when summer temperatures reached record highs and ozone levels rose with them.
Easterly again Indiana was not to blame for that violation of the Clean Air Act.
"It sure looks like that's air from Chicago that moved across the lake," Easterly said Friday. "Unless the air is super clean this year, which is highly unlikely, we're probably not going to meet the standard."
Still, Easterly said, the air is cleaner than in the past.
"We're making great progress in improving our air," he said.