The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency just released the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Carbon pollution from coal and gas power plants is the leading cause of the changing climate we see today. Carbon pollution is causing our atmosphere to trap more energy, which is changing rainfall patterns and leading to more extreme swings of hot and cold temperatures.

These changes are directly affecting Idaho in a number of ways:

  • Reducing the snowpack that people, farmers and fish rely on for clear, cold rivers.
  • Contributing to record hot summers in Idaho and globally.
  • Increasing the likelihood and severity of wildfires.

To protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the places we love, we must cut carbon pollution. Now we have the chance of a lifetime-with an Idaho clean power plan.

1. What is the Clean Power Plan?

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan sets carbon pollution targets for coal and gas power plants. We already have effective limits on other dangerous pollutants like acid gases and mercury, but these are the first-ever carbon limits on power plants.

The targets respect each state’s unique mix of power resources and energy users. States will begin reducing carbon by 2022 and reach their final targets by 2030. The plan allows states to choose from a wide variety of ways to control carbon-from expensive methods like smokestack controls to cheap methods like energy conservation.

2. But Idaho doesn’t have any coal plants. Why should I care?

The plan covers coal and large natural gas plants-also a significant source of carbon pollution.  Idaho has two affected gas plants:  Langley Gulch near New Plymouth and Rathdrum Power near Rathdrum. Idaho also  imports  35% of our electricity,  mostly from coal in neighboring states. So Idaho’s state plan must address our gas plants, and we will engage in neighboring states’ plans as well.

3. I heard the Clean Power Plan was illegal. Is it?

No. The plan builds on the 45-year legacy of the Clean Air Act-one of the most effective laws in the world. The EPA has ample authority to set nationwide pollution limits. While pollution laws typically require smokestack controls, the EPA has successfully required polluters to adopt measures “outside the fenceline,” like fuel quality controls and tradable emission credits.

The plan gives states unprecedented flexibility to craft unique plans for compliance. Those folks claiming that the plan is illegal are not dispassionate observers: they are coal companies, coal burners and coal-reliant states.

4. Will an Idaho clean power plan raise my electric bill?

This depends on how Idaho chooses to implement the plan. Controlling carbon by looking only at power plant smokestacks is very expensive. Reducing the need for coal and gas plants can be much cheaper.

Every year, Idaho wastes lots of electricity through inefficient uses like old lights, poorly insulated homes and outdated factories. Our utilities’ own studies show that 20% to 30% of our energy is wasted. By eliminating this wasted energy, Idaho saves more than enough to reach our carbon target-without energy imports. By consuming less energy, your electric bill can decrease.

5. Don’t we need baseload coal and gas for a reliable system?

Idaho has a hydroelectric backbone that provides steady, reliable power. We have untapped geothermal to complement this backbone. Idaho has innovative programs to help customers adjust their electric needs to match the available electricity. With careful planning today, we can build on Idaho’s existing resources instead of relying on out-of-state dirty energy.

6. Can Idaho really achieve these carbon limits?

Absolutely-by building on our existing energy saving programs and investing in Idaho’s renewable resources, we will have no problem meeting our target. Idaho’s carbon limit is based on current resources, known potential for new carbon-free energy, and allowances for future energy needs. In fact, Idaho can easily reduce carbon beyond these targets and create credits to sell to our neighbors.

7. Don’t we rely on imported electricity?

Yes, but we do not need to. Every year, Idaho imports about 35% of our electricity, mostly from coal-fired power plants in neighboring states. The Clean Power Plan will definitely affect these plants. But Idaho can avoid these effects by reinvesting in our own clean energy.

In 2014, ICL commissioned a study that analyzed the cost of imports and our instate potential. The results: we ship roughly $350 million out of state to import dirty energy.

Here in Idaho, we have plenty of clean resources. Each year, we consume about 24,800 gigawatt-hours of electricity. Our clean energy potential is over 8.5 million gigawatt-hours. By tapping just a fraction of this potential, we can meet our own needs.

8. What should Idaho do?

Idaho should take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a state clean power plan. If we don’t, the EPA will impose a plan on us.

Idahoans know what works best here. By working together, we can create a plan that keeps our energy dollars in Idaho, surpasses the carbon limits to create credits to sell to neighbors, and keeps electricity bills down by focusing on energy saving programs. Idaho already has some policies in place. We can do more by promoting new clean energy.

Idaho should work with our neighbors to develop a multistate plan that allows trading of clean energy across borders. Using this path, we can invest in Idaho’s clean energy and sell extra carbon reductions to our neighbors.

9. What can I do?

We need you to tell Gov. Butch Otter that Idaho should develop an Idaho clean power plan that builds on our existing energy saving programs and invests in our vast renewable energy potential. Helping Idahoans save energy will keep electric bills low. Investing in Idaho’s renewable energies will put Idahoans to work. Most importantly-a strong Idaho clean power plan will cut carbon pollution and protect healthy air and a stable climate.