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Energy debate heats up ahead of Pruitt visit

(Missourinet) EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will be in mid-Missouri Thursday to learn about renewable energy and wildlife habitat efforts. Barry Hart with the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives (AMEC), which serves about two million rural Missourians, tells Missourinet Pruitt’s visit so early on is significant.

“This is a historic event for the state of Missouri and electric cooperatives. This is the first time that an administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency has actually come to one of our energy plants in Missouri to view some of the things that we’ve done as electric cooperatives as far as our environmental stewardship record,” says Hart.

The U.S. Department of Energy has recognized AMEC as one of the top wind utility cooperatives in the country.

“The Association was the first utility to participate in wind generation projects in northwest Missouri,” says Hart. “Presently they have like 750 megawatts of renewable wind energy on the electric coop system, which makes us one of the largest wind generation utilities in the Midwest.”

Hart also says Pruitt has also heard about Missouri’s electric cooperatives leading the country in protecting the environment.

“As he charts the new direction of the country on trying to keep energy rates affordable and keep them energy-reliable, he also wants to make sure we do them in an environmentally responsible manner,” says Hart.

He says Missouri’s electric cooperatives have invested $1.5 billion in pollution control equipment to make its coal plants some of the cleanest in the country. Hart says the equipment has reduced power plant emissions by about 90% in Missouri.

“There is no technology out there that you can have electricity when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing,” says Hart. “No matter what, if you want reliable electricity in the country, you are going to have to have these base load plants, clean coal plants or combined cycle plants or hydro.”

Retired Columbia physician Gordon Christensen, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2016 against Republican Vicky Hartzler, opposes Pruitt’s plans to cut EPA jobs, clean water regulations and climate change efforts.

“The proposed cuts in funding of the EPA are likely to lead to an increase in coal-fired pollution,” says Christensen. “Along with that, more heart disease, more asthma, more emergency room visits, more hospitalizations and more deaths.”

According to the environmental group Sierra Club, clean energy jobs in Missouri outnumber coal production jobs 52,000 to 15.

Caleb Arthur with a Missouri solar energy business says he doesn’t want those jobs to disappear.

“One out of every 50 new jobs added in the United States in 2016 was created by the solar industry,” says Arthur.

Hart does not think there is a disproportionate number of renewable energy jobs versus traditional energy jobs in rural Missouri.

“There may be more jobs in the urban areas dealing with renewable energy, but I think you have to look at where those jobs are and what those jobs are,” says Hart. “We certainly don’t see them in the 110 counties that rural electric cooperatives serve in.”

Missourinet will cover Thursday’s event with Pruitt and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) in northern Missouri’s Clifton Hill.

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