Independence, pick up your pens or sit down at your computers and start writing your congressional representatives.

Independence, pick up your pens or sit down at your computers and start writing your congressional representatives.

That was the message that members of the Independence City Council relayed Monday night after hearing about federal environmental regulations published in early August. One Independence coal-fired plant – Blue Valley Unit 3 – will fall under these regulations, and power rates will likely increase as a result, Independence Power & Light Director Leon Daggett said.

Those regulations, known as the Cross State Air Pollution Rule or the “zapper rule,” are scheduled to take effect in less than four months, on Jan. 1, 2012, Daggett said.

“I don’t know where we’re going to go,” he said of the effect on local electric rates, “but we can fight back or push back.”

Blue Valley Unit 3 will have to rely on natural gas, which is volatile and more expensive. The city’s other options in complying with the regulations include installing pollution controls, which would cost about $48 million, or retiring the unit completely. Because Blue Valley Unit 3 has the availability to use natural gas, neither of these options will apply to Independence, Daggett said.

“We may be one small group of people, but we can be very boisterous,” Mayor Don Reimal said in encouraging residents to write to Washington, D.C. “I have found that out over the time that I’ve been on the council, that people have a voice...”

In compliance with the regulations, the plant could still run on coal one month out of the year, Daggett said. Multiple utility companies across the country will shut down their plants, and a handful of states, including Kansas, have filed lawsuits against the EPA to challenge the new rules.

While Missouri has yet to file a similar lawsuit, the U.S. House of Representatives last week passed the bipartisan-supported TRAIN Act in opposition of the regulatory policies, stating that it would negatively affect the U.S. economy in eliminating jobs and in increasing electricity prices.

Should the bill pass the U.S. Senate, the Obama administration has said that the president plans to veto it. Zapper replaces the federal government’s 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule, which had a three-year compliance schedule, compared to the four-month compliance schedule for the new regulations.

The act’s purpose is to clean up the transport of air pollution across state lines. A computer-simulated zapper air model predicted that Missouri power utilities – about 80 percent of which are coal-fire generated, Daggett said – were negatively affecting the air quality in two cross state cities: the Houston suburb of Harris County, Texas, and Allegan, Mich.

The EPA states that emissions from power plants can travel hundreds of miles, contributing to smog and air pollution in downwind states.

“No community should have to bear the burden of another community’s polluters or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses. These Clean Air Act safeguards will help protect the health of millions of Americans and save lives by preventing smog and soot pollution from traveling hundreds of miles and contaminating the air they breathe,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a July release. “By maximizing flexibility and leveraging existing technology, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will help ensure that American families aren’t suffering the consequences of pollution generated far from home, while allowing states to decide how best to decrease dangerous air pollution in the most cost effective way.”

The EPA estimates up to $280 billion in annual health benefits across the United States because of the new regulations. In 2014, further “zapper” restrictions will take effect on Blue Valley Unit 3. The plant already has the capabilities to switch over to natural gas and to switch back to coal, if necessary.

District 3 Council Member Myron Paris said he is concerned about communicating the changes to residents and the potential effect on customers’ utility bills. In July, an unrelated IPL 5 percent base rate increase took effect as part of a rate plan that the City Council had approved in 2008.

“I got a call last week from a guy who said one-third of his Social Security check goes to pay his utilities,” Paris said. “They call us and hold us responsible for when these electric rates go up – somewhere, in some way, we’ve got to communicate to our people out there and let them know what EPA is doing. ... I don’t know what the answers are, but we’re going to have to do something.”

Blue Valley Unit 3 is affected because of the number of megawatts it generates. Four smaller coal-fired plants under IPL’s inventory will remain in operation.

“It’s the last thing I want to do as a director,” Daggett said of recommending rate increases to the City Council. “My goal is to keep it as low as we can, and sometimes it’s a fight when they give you these rules.”