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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed regulations that would cap carbon emissions from new coal-fired power plants generated outrage from some over the new rules, and hope from some that West Virginia might be spurred to action to plan for a decline in coal production.
Most of West Virginia's politicians fell squarely in the former camp. The exception was Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who called the regulations "undeniably a daunting challenge, but it's also a call to action. West Virginia and America have overcome far greater technological obstacles than this one, and I refuse to believe we can't do it again."
Rockefeller said, "The EPA's new carbon emission plan includes tough requirements for future coal-fired power plants and pushes us hard toward clean coal technologies that have great potential but are not yet deployed at full-scale, and are difficult to finance.
"These rules will only work if we act now to strengthen our investment in clean coal technology and to advance public-private partnerships more seriously than ever. We need everyone with a stake in clean coal to come together for these solutions to become a reality."
His fellow West Virginia Democrat in the Senate, Joe Manchin, said the EPA's new regulations provide "direct evidence that this administration is trying to hold the coal industry to impossible standards."
Coal generates about 40 percent of the nation's electric power -- a greater percentage than any other energy source, Manchin said.
"If these regulations go into effect, American jobs will be lost [and] electricity prices will soar," Manchin said.
The two leading candidates for Rockefeller's seat in the Senate -- he will retire next year -- also blasted the EPA for its regulations.
"[The] EPA's action strikes at the core of West Virginia and is yet another sign that this administration simply doesn't care about the hard-working men and women who earn their living in the coal industry," said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
On Thursday, Capito introduced the "Ensure Reliable and Affordable American Energy Act" to delay implementing new EPA regulations "until other countries comprising at least 80 percent of non-U.S. global carbon dioxide emissions enact regulations that are at least as stringent as [the] EPA's new standards."
"Yet again, President Obama has taken direct aim at West Virginia's coal industry. This proposed regulation would effectively prohibit the construction of any new coal-fired plants. This regulation is bad for West Virginia coal miners, their families and communities across the coalfields," Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said in a statement. Tennant, a Democrat, announced this week that she will run for Rockefeller's seat.
The EPA regulations are the result of a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that required the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide, under the Clean Air Act, if it determined that greenhouse gas emissions threatened human health and welfare.
Coal production in West Virginia has been declining in recent years for a number of reasons, including the recent recession and the abundance of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale deposit.
"The scariest thing is not the proposed EPA regulations. It is that many state leaders have offered no alternative plans to help the state transition from the structural decline of coal that will hurt many West Virginia working families regardless of EPA rules," said Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. "It is very likely that there will be a regulated reduction in carbon pollution from coal in the near future."