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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling Thursday that limited the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants left many Iowa officials and environmental advocates reeling — and concerned about its implications in the state.
Nearly 24 percent of Iowa’s energy in 2020 was generated with coal — a figure shadowed by wind power, which was responsible for 57 percent of the state’s energy that year. Still, there are nine utility-owned coal-fired power plants remaining in Iowa.
Thursday’s court ruling means that federal regulations can’t take a systemwide approach to regulating greenhouse gas emissions, said Kerri Johannsen, energy program director for the nonprofit Iowa Environmental Council, which includes over 90 organizations in the state as members. Instead, future regulations would have to focus on specific power plants.
As of yet, it is unclear how this ruling could ripple through Iowa’s energy regulations. As far as Johannsen said she knows, there are no current Iowa laws in place that are impacted by this ruling.
However, she said its limitation of broad action by federal agencies is inefficient. Utilities operate in a large grid system throughout the entire Midwest region and are typically regulated by broad limits on emissions. This Supreme Court decision now leaves the door open for future legislation against emissions to be questioned in courts and puts upcoming plans in limbo, Johannsen said.
“We know climate change is the most critical environmental issue facing Iowa right now. Every year, Iowans are impacted by increasingly expensive and dangerous disasters,” she said. “And to take away a pretty vital tool from our environmental regulators to address that issue is very frustrating.”
Of the nine coal-fired plants in Iowa, MidAmerican Energy owns five coal-generating units and is the majority owner of a sixth. Company spokesperson Geoff Greenwood said in an email that MidAmerican would continue its current course of action regardless of the Supreme Court ruling. Its proposed Wind PRIME project, announced in January, would add 2,042 megawatts of wind generation and 50 megawatts of solar generation to its energy portfolio. MidAmerican has retired five coal-generating units within its plants since 2005, Greenwood said.
Alliant Energy owns the remaining three plants, although the company plans to retire its Lansing Generation Station in Allamakee County by the end of 2022. Its Prairie Creek Generating Station in Cedar Rapids still is in operation but will be converted from coal to natural gas by the end of 2025, the company says.
Under its Clean Energy Blueprint, Alliant Energy aimed to eliminate all coal power generation by 2040. After Thursday’s ruling, Alliant Energy doubled-down on its low-carbon transition plans.
“Alliant Energy is focused on executing a long-term strategy to deliver reliable and affordable energy with lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, independent of changing policies and political landscape. … We are committed to these plans,” it said in a statement.
Several Iowa officials and environmental advocacy groups have also commented on the Supreme Court decision and its potential impacts in Iowa. U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, Iowa’s only Democrat in Congress, said in a statement that the ruling threatened the EPA’s ability to help ensure healthy air quality.
“Climate change is the existential threat facing our world today, and the Supreme Court's ruling is a disastrous setback in our nation's decadeslong effort to combat it,” she said, referencing the state’s historic flooding and the 2020 derecho.
The progressive advocacy group Progress Iowa released a statement from its executive director, Matt Sinovic, that also condemned the ruling.
“Today’s decision from the Supreme Court is one more trampling of our freedoms and a significant step backward in the fight against the climate crisis,” it said. “It will make us less safe and our air and water less clean, all to profit the wealthy corporations polluting in our backyards.”
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