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Most W.Va. leaders slam Obama coal limits

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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."

Thursday's rules affect only power plants that haven't been built yet, but Boettner noted that the EPA is expected to enact carbon-emission standards for existing power plants in the near future.

"It is very shortsighted for state leaders to gamble our state's future with an all-or-nothing strategy against the EPA, instead of offering workable solutions that will move our state forward," he said.

Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said he believes the White House is "not paying attention to anybody. They are trying to put an economy together which will further restrict the ability of our people to continue to work, to create jobs, to expand existing power plants and to build new power plants.

"This is being done without any consideration of what the impact will be on consumers," Raney said.

If the price of natural gas rises, Raney said -- he noted it historically has been volatile -- the country could need new coal-fired plants that would be stymied by the new EPA regulations.

United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts said the Obama administration has decided "to cut our nation's most abundant source of fuel, coal, out of the mix. Under this proposed set of regulations, there will be no more coal-fired power plants built in the United States.

"People can say all they want about the possibility of using carbon capture and storage [CCS] technology on new plants," Roberts said, "but the reality is that, absent significant support from the government, no utility will make the commitment to spend billions to add unproven CCS capability to their new power plants."

Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., said, "I am dead-set against the EPA and their scheme to issue emissions standards that would make it next to impossible for new coal-fired power plants to be constructed.  . . . The agency is preventing abundant American coal from meeting America's future energy needs."

He said the EPA's proposals would result in higher electricity bills for families and businesses, in lower national energy independence and in lost jobs for coal miners.

Rockefeller said he always has believed "any clean coal policy must, at its core, have the interests of miners and their families in mind -- and that new technology is the best and only way to secure their future."

Jeremy Richardson, a West Virginian who now works for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, "Recent U.S. Department of Energy projections for coal production predicted not many new coal plants were going to be built anyway. A lot of that has to do with growing competition from natural gas."

"The real question is whether we want a hard landing or a soft landing from coal," Boettner said. "Since many state leaders have put all of their energy into denouncing the EPA, instead of workable and positive solutions for the state, it very well could be a hard landing for many working families, especially those in the Southern coalfields. That would be a tragedy."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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