CHARLESTON -- New EPA rules intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are not going over well in West Virginia.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveiled the new rules Monday, and critics say the regulations will have a major impact on the national economy -- especially in energy-producing states such as West Virginia.
The new regulations would cut carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Despite promised flexibility, the rules could mean major problems for coal-fired power plants. In addition to producing coal, most West Virginia power plants are coal-fired.
A report released last week in advance of Monday's announcement by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy estimated the U.S. gross domestic product will be $51 billion lower with 224,000 fewer jobs each year through 2030 because of the new rules. (The U.S. Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform owns The West Virginia Record.)
“What is most baffling about President Obama’s new rules is that reports indicate they will only reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.8 percent while the global carbon emission levels are expected to increase by 31 percent between 2011 and 2030," West Virginia Chamber President Steve Roberts said Monday. "That is just unnecessarily hindering our economy while the rest of the world waves and passes us.
“The Obama Administration seems incapable of changing course to create jobs, speed the slowest economic recovery since World War II and help strengthen families. A government of regulatory nightmares, more opportunity for lawsuits, less productivity and more emphasis on bigger government with more people dependent upon public assistance seems to describe the last 5 ½ years under the Obama vision for America.”
Roberts said the West Virginia Chamber will continue to work for "sound policies that lead to American competitiveness, energy independence and prosperity and opportunity for working families."
The EPA called Monday's "Clean Power Plan" proposal, calling it "a commonsense plan to cut carbon pollution."
"We don't have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a news release. "Our action will sharpen America's competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs."
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said several proposals in the 645-page proposal "cause us great concern."
"If these rules are put into place, our manufacturers may be forced to look overseas for more reasonable energy costs, taking good paying jobs with them and leaving hardworking West Virginians without jobs to support their families," Tomblin said. "We must make every effort to create opportunities for our young people, not hinder them."
Tomblin also pledged to form a working group of people from across the state to determine the impacts of new regulations and challenges for West Virginia's energy industry and opportunities to diversify the state's economy. The governor said he is also committed to bringing together governors from across the country to work together to strengthen our economy and protect seniors and working families from unaffordable electric costs.
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller said he supports the EPA's goal of safeguarding the public's health.
"Strengthening West Virginians’ health and well being has always been at the heart of my career in public service," he said in a statement Monday. “I understand the fears that these rules will eliminate jobs, hurt our communities, and drive up costs for working families. I am keenly focused on policy issues that affect West Virginians' health and their livelihoods.
"However, rather than let fear alone drive our response, we should make this an opportunity to build a stronger future for ourselves. West Virginians have never walked away from a challenge, and I know together we can create a future that protects our health, creates jobs, and maintains coal as a core part of our energy supply. Already, we’ve seen successes with clean coal technology in West Virginia, and countries around the world are innovating to reduce carbon emissions from coal. We have the brightest minds and the competitive spirit to solve this challenge – but achieving this goal means finding the political will to invest real federal dollars in clean coal technology rather than continuing to rely solely on the private sector.
“The threat that climate change and unhealthy air pose to all of our futures cannot be understated. And, the costs of inaction are far greater than the costs of action.”
On Sunday, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said his office will be looking at the "sweeping and draconian proposal."
"Let me be clear: My office will review every line, of every paragraph, of every page of this proposal and take all legal actions necessary to protect West Virginia jobs, uphold the rule of law, and challenge this unprecedented attack on coal miners and their families," Morrisey said in a statement.
Morrisey compared the EPA’s proposal to "a massive, job-killing energy tax, which will disproportionally harm hard-working West Virginians."
“Like so many of the EPA’s actions, this regulation strikes at the heart of a very reliable and affordable source of American energy — coal," Morrisey said Monday in a second press release. "This proposal is a direct assault on existing coal-fired power plants and the hard-working West Virginians who mine the coal that keeps these plants online. It also shows that President Obama has a callous disregard for the poverty plaguing West Virginia and our country.”
Morrisey said the proposed regulation is contrary to law, and, if finalized, should be struck down by the courts.
“The Clean Air Act was not designed to permit the President to overhaul the nation’s energy policy by executive decree,” Morrisey said. “The EPA cannot simply usurp the state’s role in setting environmental standards.”
Morrisey said the proposed regulations also threaten the nation’s energy grid and its reliability.
“If approved as currently written, this regulation will result in the closure of even more coal-fired power plants, which will threaten reliability across the Nation,” he said. “That places our citizens at risk of power outages during peak load conditions, such as during a hard winter or hot summer.”
Morrisey said he does not believe the proposed rule will give states the necessary flexibility to ensure reliable electricity at acceptable costs.
“The costs of this rule will fall on citizens who pay electricity bills and on workers who lose their jobs,” Morrisey said. “Those with limited income or those in the middle class will be hurt the most by the higher rates. That makes this a double-blow for many hard working West Virginians. Not only will we have fewer high-paying coal jobs, but our utility bills will skyrocket. How does the EPA justify that?”
This regulation marks the second time in less than a year that coal-fired power plants have been targeted by EPA. Only a few weeks ago, Morrisey led a bipartisan group of 16 states in filing official comments to the EPA on a proposed rule targeting carbon emissions from new power plants.
“Like the prior rule, which effectively bans the construction of new coal-fired power plants, today’s rule targeting existing power plants lands a severe blow on coal and West Virginia workers,” Morrisey said. “Clearly, this rule is part of a calculated effort by the Obama Administration to end the use of coal altogether.
“The Office of Attorney General will fight this unlawful action by the Obama EPA at every step of the way. The federal government’s lawless and reckless regulatory scheme must be stopped.”
Also Sunday, state Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas called the proposed rules "the final straw on coal, for West Virginia and America with the lame-duck Barack Obama."
"Today, Democrats here will purport to fight this EPA and the President they have supported unceasingly since 2008," Lucas said in a statement. "And they will be lying.
"Democrats in West Virginia knew what Obama was, and knew who he was. That his goal was to end our energy industries. They and union leaders around this state insisted on backing him anyway.
"No matter their excuses today, incumbent Democrats here were either fooled by Obama, or worse, are traitors who joined him on a course to destroy what remains of West Virginia's economy."
Former state Democratic Party Chairman and current Congressional candidate Nick Casey issued a statement saying he is against the new EPA plan.
“I am strongly opposed to the new rules EPA announced today against our coal and electric power industries," said Casey, who is running for the 2nd Congressional District seat being vacated by Republican Shelley Moore Capito. "EPA has targeted our state’s economy for devastation with these rules and I intend to fight them in the coalfields, in the courts and in Congress.
"President Obama is totally wrong on this issue.”
Casey's opponent, Republican Alex Mooney, also took issue with the proposal.
"President Obama's EPA is taking an unprecedented and blatantly undemocratic step in imposing job-killing cap-and-trade regulations that have already been rejected by Congress,” Mooney said in a statement Monday. “These burdensome regulations amount to a tax on carbon and will have disastrous effects, forcing the closure of existing power plants, killing West Virginia jobs, and sticking every American with higher energy bills.
“It is time to defeat President Obama’s War on Coal once and for all."
On Monday, Capito said the "catastrophic" EPA rules underscore Obama's "disdain for West Virginia coal."
"We are truly under attack in West Virginia," she said after Monday's announcement. "This new rule will have catastrophic consequences for our economy, our coal families and our communities.
"This morning I was talking to coal miners and the wives of coal miners in Danville about the deep and personal struggles that have resulted from the War on Coal already, let alone from these new devastating regulations. Our people are hurting, and they are sickened by President Obama and his anti-coal allies taking away their jobs, taking away their money, and telling them how to live their lives.
"The people I met with today are tired of being treated like they don't matter by President Obama and his allies in Washington. West Virginians do matter. Our coal jobs matter. Our livelihoods matter. And I'm fighting with everything I've got for the people of West Virginia."
Other leaders expressed concern about the rule proposal.
"Obama and his EPA completely neglected and sidestepped Congress with these rules as they continue their war on coal and in the process destroying our economy and denying Americans affordable and reliable energy," said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
"I've been a miner for 40 years," said Roger Horton, director of Citizens For Coal. "I raised two children who are nurses now, and I was able to put them through school because of coal. Coal powers our state and it gives our people an opportunity to make a good living. The EPA's new rule is really going to hurt us."
"The Administration has not considered the impact of rising electricity prices on small business," said Gil White, director of NFIB West Virginia. "Small businesses are very concerned about the impact of this new EPA proposal ... Energy prices have risen dramatically over the last few years with small businesses shouldering much of the cost burden."