The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Columns

August 4, 2013

President Obama is ignoring, not aiding clean coal technology

Opinion

When it comes to coal, President Obama and the EPA are clearly hell-bent on putting the coal industry out of business forever.

Coal currently generates almost 40 percent of the electricity in America, at low, affordable prices. It generates electricity in almost every state, and the president’s own agency projects that coal will still produce 36 percent of our electricity through 2040.

That’s why the coal industry is committed to a cleaner coal energy future, through technologies that have proved their worth in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and through promising technologies still on the drawing board.

Coal-fueled electric plants have invested $100 billion to reduce emissions of major air pollutants.

If President Obama succeeds in removing coal from our energy production, he will wipe out a multibillion-dollar industry that employs 1.6 million people and is vital not only to the economy of West Virginia and the 24 other states where coal is mined, but is absolutely essential to America’s continued economic and military leadership in the world.

It troubles me that President Obama is willing to jeopardize so much in addressing climate change — and to do so in a way that cuts Congress out of the process entirely and completely ignores the fact that China burns four times more coal than the U.S.

In fact, we are using clean coal technology better, and could do more if government works as a partner, not an adversary.

His actions are going to raise the price of energy and throw people out of work. When the country’s economy is still shaky, does that make any sense at all?

It also troubles me that the president is placing so much emphasis on “alternative” energy technologies that, so far, have had questionable results, when clean coal technology already is being used cleaner and better.

In the last 10 years, U.S. coal emissions have been reduced by 50 percent and coal-fired electric plants are expected to spend at least $80 billion by 2015 on new technologies to further reduce emissions.

I am all for America developing new sources of clean energy. I agree when the president says that we need scientists and engineers to design and devise new energy technologies and that we need businesses to make and sell them.

But here’s the big difference between the president and me: I believe those scientists and engineers should also be working on developing clean coal technologies.

The coal industry agrees wholeheartedly with the assessment of former Energy Secretary Steven Chu: “Charting a path toward clean coal is essential to achieving our goals of providing clean energy, creating American jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It will also help position the United States as a leader in the global clean energy race.”

Instead, the president has chosen to not work with Congress but to act through his political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency, piling unnecessary and expensive new regulations on the coal industry, without any regard for the economic damage they cause.

Most recently, I was the only Democrat to vote against President Obama’s nominee to be the next EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, not because my fight is with her, but because my fight is with the regulatory agency she will run that has consistently placed unreasonable regulations with unobtainable standards on energy production.

For example, last year, the EPA issued a proposed New Source Performance (NSPS) regulation for greenhouse gases last year. In the 43-year history of the EPA, we’ve never seen anything like this regulation. It would require new coal-fired plants to meet the same emissions standards as gas-fired plants.

Here’s the kicker — it can’t be done. It’s simply impossible for coal-fired plants to meet that standard. The EPA had to know that. The EPA had to know what the result would be — the end of coal as an energy source for new electric-generating units.

The EPA has also claimed it has the power to retroactively veto a valid Clean Water Act permit issued by another agency of the federal government. The EPA asserted that right in a case involving Logan County Coal’s Spruce Mine No. 1 in West Virginia.

In doing so, the EPA jeopardized thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of investments in West Virginia. The EPA had to know that would happen, but they did it anyway.

We’re still fighting the EPA in federal court. But this fight should never have happened. It is fundamentally wrong for government to change the rules in the middle of the game, with thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.

The EPA’s actions can only have a chilling effect on the kind of investments that spur economic growth and create jobs — not just in West Virginia, but all over the country.

Also, the EPA has attempted to issue new or revised water standards without state approval when the state has an approved standard already in place.

Back in 2010, when the EPA issued final guidance on water quality, it simply ignored the fact that primary authority for overseeing a state’s water and land resources belong to the state, not the EPA.

In response, I introduced legislation that would prevent this kind of heavy-handedness by the EPA. My legislation is backed by Democrats and Republicans alike, because members of both parties believe the EPA should regulate, not legislate.

That is something President Obama should consider before he gives the green light to the EPA to start issuing more regulations that will hold dangerous sway over the coal industry and the livelihoods of its employees.

The EPA itself was created in 1970 by Democrats and Republicans in Congress working together with a Republican president.

That same kind of bipartisanship also produced the landmark environmental legislation that followed the creation of the EPA — the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

The best things we have done as a nation — the greatest things we have done — we have done, not separately, but together.

— Joe Manchin is the junior senator representing West Virginia in the U.S. Senate.

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