EPA’s Pruitt Gets Co-op View

Missouri power plant hosts top EPA officials

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt visited Associated Electric Cooperative’s Thomas Hill Energy Center to discuss environmental and energy issues with electric co-op leaders. (Photo By: Derrill Holly)
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt visited Associated Electric Cooperative’s Thomas Hill Energy Center to discuss environmental and energy issues with electric co-op leaders. (Photo By: Derrill Holly)

CLIFTON HILL, Mo.—Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt visited Missouri to discuss the agency’s “Back to the Basics” regulatory approach and learn more about the role electric cooperatives play in powering the nation’s economy.

“We can do both: growth and protect our environment,” Pruitt told a crowd of about 150 electric cooperative representatives and plant employees April 20 at Associated Electric Cooperative’s Thomas Hill Energy Center.

The 1.1-gigawatt-capacity coal plant, originally commissioned in 1966, has undergone more than $1 billion in upgrades since 1994 to improve air quality and reduce overall environmental impact.

“Since 1980, we’ve seen a 65 percent reduction in pollution in this country,” said Pruitt, as he discussed the goals of the agency’s “Back to Basics” agenda. The series of initiatives is designed to restore the agency’s commitment to its core mission of environmental policies developed in cooperation with stakeholders.

“The EPA is going to stay in its lane,” said Pruitt. “We’re going to get back to the core mission of what the EPA is all about: air, land, water quality.”

Pruitt’s stop in north-central Missouri, his first to a power plant since his confirmation as EPA administrator in February, came one week after a visit to a coal mine near Sycamore, Pennsylvania.

He and other administration officials have been promoting concepts outlined in President Trump’s executive order on energy independence and economic growth issued March 28. The measure calls for a review of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and potential revision or withdrawal of measures related to greenhouse gas and carbon emission guidelines.

“Affordable and reliable power is fundamental to a successful economy, and I look forward to building on today’s productive conversations,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson, who attended the event and met with Pruitt. Matheson added that he appreciates administration efforts to protect American families from overreaching regulations like the Clean Power Plan.

The Thomas Hill Energy Center is located on 30,000 acres owned by Springfield, Mo.-based Associated Electric Cooperative, Inc., and its six member generation and transmission cooperatives. Originally built as a mine-mouth power plant near surrounding coal fields owned by the G&T, mining was phased out at the site when the cooperative switched to low-sulfur coal in the early ’90s. Since then, site remediation has transformed much of the acreage for nature preservation, recreation and hay production.

AECI plants and contracted energy suppliers meet the energy needs of 870,000 consumer-members of more than 50 distribution co-ops. Coal-based electric generation accounts for 63 percent of AECI’s power supply.

“Responsible coal generation plays a key role in making sure rural America has access to affordable power it can count on,” said David Tudor, CEO and general manager of Associated Electric Cooperative.

Members of Missouri’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and Reps. Vicky Jo Hartzler and Blaine Luetkemeyer, also visited the Thomas Hill center to discuss environmental concerns with co-op officials, particularly regulations affecting air and water quality.

“We have people looking at these rules now from the standpoint of families who have to pay their utilities,” said Blunt, noting that the Clean Power Plan would have doubled the average utility bills of co-op members within several years.

Members of Missouri’s electric cooperatives submitted more than 300,000 comments to EPA on the Clean Power Plan, denouncing higher rates and supporting a diversified energy policy that promotes economic growth, particularly in rural America.

“Those comments fell on deaf ears,” said Barry Hart, vice president and CEO of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives. “We are encouraged to see that the Trump administration understands the concerns of people in rural America and is committed to bringing the change they want.”

Pruitt said that the EPA’s new mission is to solve environmental problems in ways that protect fuel diversity without strangling economic growth.

“We’re not going to have a war on coal anymore, and we can have both jobs and a clean environment,” said Hartzler. “Instead of shutting down power plants like this one, we’re going to celebrate the good work that they are doing and keep electricity affordable.”

Derrill E. Holly is a staff writer for NRECA.