CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection on Monday filed comments related to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan.
In its comments, the state argues that the proposed rule – which aims to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil-fuel power plants – is unprecedented, illegal and, if enacted, would result in higher energy prices and lower energy reliability for residents.
“This proposed rule would have devastating impacts on the economy of our state and our nation,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement.
“Across West Virginia, we are already seeing real impacts of the current regulatory environment in which industry must operate, and we remain concerned that this irresponsible mandate will cause significant negative effects for West Virginians and our nation’s power grid.”
The comment period on the proposed rule ended Monday.
Janet McCabe, assistant administrator for the EPA’s office of air and radiation, said in a blog post on the agency’s website that since June it has received more than 1.6 million comments -- and that’s not counting the hundreds of thousands that came in last week and those received Monday.
“Each commenter has something important to say, and we are listening to each and every one of them,” she wrote.
“We will continue to talk about the ideas everyone is putting forward as we work through the comments we’ve received. And we will continue to work with stakeholders and states as they are starting to think about their 111(d) compliance plans and how they are going to meet the goals.”
Under the EPA’s proposal, new large natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, while new small natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour.
New coal-fired units would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, and would have the option to meet a somewhat tighter limit if they choose to average emissions over multiple years, giving those units additional operational flexibility.
In its proposal, the EPA has tasked West Virginia with a carbon emissions reduction target of 20 percent by 2030.
In its comments, the state DEP called the plan “far-reaching” and said the EPA is attempting to “boldly venture into many roles that go well beyond its historic responsibility under the Clean Air Act of regulating emissions of air pollutants from sources.”
Despite the flexibility the agency claims the proposed rule provides, the emissions guidelines are “entirely unreasonable,” the DEP wrote.
The Mountain State receives 95 percent of its electricity from coal.
The DEP also identified significant legal and technical obstacles that interfere with or impede implementation of the rule as proposed.
To read all 72 pages of the state’s comments, click here.
“This comment period on the proposed rule is just the first step in the process,” Tomblin said. “I urge the EPA to reconsider its proposed plan and realize the real impact these new rules will have on families and communities in West Virginia and across the country.
"Our state and the majority of Americans would be far better served by working together to develop reasonable, attainable goals that balance the environmental protection we all support with the economic growth we must maintain.”
The comments were compiled with input from the West Virginia Division of Energy and senior staff of the West Virginia Public Service Commission.
Also filing comments Monday was the West Virginia Coal Association.
The trade association – the largest of its kind in the nation, representing nearly 95 percent of West Virginia’s coal production – condemned the proposed carbon emissions guidelines.
“This ill-conceived, poorly devised and illegal power grab by the Obama EPA will hurt West Virginians by minimizing the use of West Virginia coal and force the closure of more coal-fired power plants across the country,” President Bill Raney said. “It will further reduce the number of West Virginians working in the coal and power generation industries, taking paychecks out of our communities and further jeopardizing our state’s economic prosperity.
“It will extend up and down through the supply chain to include direct and indirect jobs, impacting every sector of our economy from the mine repair shop to the railroads and from the local pizza place to the school system.”
Raney called on West Virginia’s congressional representatives – Sen. Joe Manchin, Sen.-elect Shelley Moore Capito, Rep. David McKinley, Rep.-elect Alex Mooney and Rep.-elect Evan Jenkins – to push the new Congress to “do whatever they can to stop this job-killing, economy smashing plan in its tracks.”
Jenkins was recently appointed to the House Appropriations Committee. The committee is charged with shaping the federal government’s budget and decides where to appropriate federal dollars.
“The EPA’s attempt to take regulatory control away from the states will result in unreliable supply and higher electric bills for most Americans,” Raney said Monday.
A recent analysis by global economic consulting firm National Economic Research Associates Inc. projects “significant negative economic impacts” to West Virginia under the proposed Coal Power Plan.
Electricity rates could face a peak-year increase of 14 percent in the state, NERA found.
Another study, recently released by Arlington, Va.-based Energy Ventures Analysis Inc., found that the proposed rule, along with other regulations and rising natural gas prices, will increase the cost of electricity and natural gas by nearly $300 billion in 2020 compared with 2012.
In West Virginia alone, the average household’s electricity and gas bills would increase by $750 in 2020, the study found.
“President Obama is mandating a move away from low cost, coal-fired electricity to more expensive alternatives for an initiative that will have little to no impact on global climate change,” Raney said. “When you take into account that more than 400 electric generating units across the country are slated for closure or transition to alternative fuels in the coming years, these rules also severely threaten the stability of America’s power grid.”
Raney contends that 58 coal-fired electric generating units across the country that currently use West Virginia coal will be shuttered by 2020.
This represents the livelihood of thousands of state residents, he said.
“Over the past several months, more than 12,000 individuals have signed a West Virginia Coal Association petition in opposition to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan,” Raney said. “These comments will be filed alongside our own, and we hope someone will listen and take action before it’s too late.”
To read the coal association’s full, 39 pages of comments, click here.