By Mannix Porterfield
Coal-fired electrical generating plants fell into President Obama’s crosshairs Friday, touching off a tidal wave of protest from political, industry and union leaders in West Virginia.
“Devastating,” is how West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney characterized the power grab by Obama, who bypassed Congress and imposed a limit of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour, and new coal plants to 1,100 pounds.
Already, Raney said, between 4,000 and 5,000 miners in West Virginia have lost good-paying jobs alone, and even more can expect pink slips unless Obama and his Environmental Protection Agency are reversed.
Just weeks ago, some Democratic leaders in the state met with new EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in hopes of getting her to visit West Virginia coal installations and talk with those who work with the industry, but she never answered the invitation.
Raney said power firms cannot afford to operate under those new conditions, and even if they could, the costs passed on to consumers would be too great.
What is even more disturbing to Raney is that the Obama administration didn’t consider the people affected by the president’s radical approach.
“They didn’t do any economic study,” he said.
“Didn’t do any kind of analysis or assessment of the economic impact of this, and certainly didn’t do one as regards those where coal-burning utilities are as well as where the coal is being mined today.”
Raney said the president’s agenda would have a chilling effect on the coal and utility industries alike.
“And the crazy thing is the suggestion that they’re going to reduce the budget for research that surrounds carbon control, as well as fossil energy research by the Department of Energy,” the coal association president said.
United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts said the EPA regulations would sound the death knell of any new coal-fired power plants.
“That’s just a fact,” Roberts said.
“People can say all they want about the possibility of using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology on new plants, 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 plant.”
Roberts agreed that the regulations would lead to higher utility bills, particularly in states such as West Virginia, where most electricity is created with coal, adding that the existing low price of natural gas is to be short-lived.
“For the UMWA, there is no issue of greater importance,” the union leader said.
“This is about whether or not our members have a future working in an industry that provides steady employment. It is about whether or not our members can continue to earn good wages, provide for their families and be the main economic drivers of the communities where they live.”
Moreover, Roberts suggested the regulations could put the health care and pension benefits of some 100,000 retirees in jeopardy.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the EPA is trying to hold coal operators to “impossible standards.”
“Never before has the federal government forced an industry to do something that is technologically impossible,” he said.
“Forcing coal to meet the same emissions standards as gas when experts know that the required technology is not operational on a commercial scale makes absolutely no sense and will have devastating impacts to the coal industry and our economy.”
As the EPA unveiled its proposal, Rep. Nick Rahall, also D-W.Va., offered a House resolution to express disapproval by Congress that the rules would hurt the economy and impair America’s security.
“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,” he said.
Rahall called it a “wrong-headed policy” and predicted the outcome would be higher energy bills for families and businesses, and diminished reliability in power, along with more layoffs in the industry.
“This callous, ideologically driven agency continues to be numb to the economic pain that their reckless regulations cause,” the 3rd District congressman said.
“Today’s rule is just the latest salvo in the EPA’s ‘war on coal,’ a war I have unwaveringly soldiered against, and I will work tirelessly to prevent such an ill-conceived and illogical plan from moving forward.”
In a statement, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said the EPA move is further proof that the Obama administration cares not for the workers of her state, nor about the nation’s energy needs.
Moving to thwart the EPA, she introduced the Ensure Reliable and Affordable American Energy Act to delay the rules until other nations that make up at least 80 percent of non-U.S. global carbon dioxide emissions enact regulations that are at a minimum equal to the new standards.
“West Virginia families and businesses have already paid a heavy price due to EPA’s overbearing regulations,” she said.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey vowed to review “every word of every paragraph of every page” in the rules to see if they can be challenged, saying the EPA policy “basically slams the door” on coal as a means of providing electrical energy.
“It is a blatant attempt to promote a reckless agenda that picks winners and losers and puts our nation’s goal for energy independence in a tenuous position,” he said.
“I’ve seen little from the White House or the EPA on what people in Boone, Marshall, Logan, Marion, Mingo, Monongalia and other counties around the state should do when their local coal mines have layoffs.”
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