From staff reports
CHARLESTON, W.Va. State and federal officials with ties to the Mountain State are highly critical of a new proposed plan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cut carbon emissions from power plants.
Many of these officials believe this will have a crippling effect on West Virginia and its economy.
The EPA released details of the new proposed Clean Power Plan Monday, saying it will cut down on harmful carbon pollutants coming from U.S. power plants.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the EPA's new rules are an extensive 645-pages long and at first glance, there are several proposals that cause 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," the governor said. "We must make every effort to create opportunities for our young people, not hinder them."
By John Flesher
AP Environmental Writer
A sampling of states' reactions to President Barack Obama's plan for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants:
STATES MOST RELIANT ON COAL FOR ELECTRICITY
KENTUCKY: Not surprisingly, the proposal is widely unpopular in Kentucky, which gets 92 percent of its electricity from coal - more than any other state - and is the nation's third-largest coal producer. "Why keep chopping the legs out of your own economy to fight a world problem?" asks Gary Whitt, a railroad worker whose job depends on coal shipments.
INDIANA: Gov. Mike Pence and a state manufacturers' group say the plan would cost Indiana - which generates 80 percent of its power from coal and is perched atop a gigantic vein - jobs and business growth while boosting ratepayer costs that are among the nation's lowest. Purdue University researcher Doug Gotham says replacing aging coal-fired plants with natural gas burners will help.
STATES THAT PRODUCE THE MOST COAL
WYOMING: Fighting the feds is nothing new in a state participating in a dozen lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency over air emissions. Gov. Mike Mead says he's reviewing the proposal and will "fight for coal" if necessary. Wyoming leads the country in coal production with nearly 40 percent, and Wyoming Mining Association director Jonathan Downing says it can be a clean energy source.
WEST VIRGINIA: Democrats and Republicans may agree on little else in the No. 2 coal-producing state, which also gets almost all its power from coal, but opposition to the EPA plan is bipartisan. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin says none of the state's coal plants is close to meeting the proposed standard, although companies say they're cutting emissions.
STATES REQUIRED TO MAKE THE BIGGEST CUTS
WASHINGTON: The plan demands a 72 percent cut in coal usage, a far higher rate than any other state. But it helps that in this hydro-rich state, just 3 percent of electricity is coal-generated. Gov. Jay Inslee praises Obama for his leadership on carbon pollution, while officials note that a voter-approved law requires the largest utilities to get more power from renewable sources.
SOUTH CAROLINA: State government and power companies say the federal order to cut coal emissions by 51 percent is surprisingly harsh. But more than half of South Carolina's power comes from nuclear plants and that will increase after two units under construction go online.
LEADING USERS OF ALTERNATIVE ENERGY
COLORADO: The administration describes Colorado as a poster child in the push to cut carbon emissions, praising its requirements for utilities to step up use of renewable energy sources; the state gets 11 percent of its power from wind. But coal remains the biggest electricity provider, and the plan seeks a 35 percent cut by 2030.
CALIFORNIA: Coal is a bit player in the most populous state's energy portfolio, so few are complaining about the EPA order to reduce emissions by 23 percent. California gets more power from wind, biomass, geothermal, hydro and solar than from coal, and its providers are required to generate one-third of their electricity from renewables by 2020. "While others delay and deny, the Obama administration is confronting climate change head-on with these new standards," Gov. Jerry Brown says.
Tomblin has pledged to form a working group of diverse voices 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.
Federal lawmakers from West Virginia, both Republican and Democrat, have denounced the proposed plan as hurting the state and its workers. Many have announced plans to introduce legislation that will stem the reach of this program.
"President Obama has made it clear that he intends to use his executive powers to pick winners and losers, and the loser in today's announcement is West Virginia," said U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. "Coal powers West Virginia's economy and provides paychecks to tens of thousands of West Virginia families.
"This rule threatens our state's way of life and would irreparably damage our state's economy. We need policies that allow coal to be part of a national all-of-the-above energy strategy to produce secure, affordable, abundant domestic energy."
U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said if all the coal-fired power plants in the United States shut down today, it would only eliminate two-tenths of a percent of carbon dioxide emissions on the planet. If other nations continue at their current rates, any progress made will be gradually overtaken, he said, while the economy of West Virginia and the nation will be damaged by job losses and higher electrical rates.
A far greater culprit, McKinley said, is the loss of rain forests in the Amazon and Africa, with trees being cut down to be burned for electricity.
"And so what did the president do?" McKinley said Monday in Parkersburg. "The president said by his edict, 'no coal-fired powerhouses will be built in emerging nations.'"
And those plants would have been built using modern technology with lower emissions, the congressman said.
"We're fighting the wrong fight. We're chasing the wrong rabbit," he said.
McKinley acknowledges climate change is real, citing statistics showing the ocean is 8 inches higher than 150 years ago, and the average temperature has risen. But he questions how much of it is man-made, saying 96 percent of carbon dioxide emissions come from natural sources.
"(Obama) has a failed foreign policy. He has a failed immigration policy," McKinely said. "But yet he thinks he can change the weather."
U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., announced he will introduce legislation to stop the proposed plan.
Rahall is working with McKinley, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to introduce legislation to terminate this new rule for existing power plants, along with the proposed rule for future power plants. In addition, to prevent some sleight of hand maneuver by the EPA, the bill will aim to block the issuance of similar rules for at least the next five years without congressional approval, he said.
"We will introduce bipartisan legislation that will prevent these disastrous new rules from wreaking havoc on our economy in West Virginia," Rahall said. "There is a right way and a wrong way of doing things, and the Obama Administration has got it wrong once again. This new regulation threatens our economy and does so with an apparent disregard for the livelihoods of our coal miners and thousands of families throughout West Virginia."
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the EPA has proposed rules that are not based on any existing technology that has been proven on a commercial scale.
"That is why we must continue to invest in innovative technologies, including clean coal and natural gas technologies, to ensure our energy supply remains accessible, affordable and reliable for all Americans," he said. "Our great country should be a leader in developing the technologies so that we can export them to the world, but it is unreasonable to require the use of technologies that do not yet work at the commercial scale.
"Fossil fuel energy is vital to our nation's economy and security. It will be a resource that our country depends on as we move forward. The EPA estimates that around 80 percent of our electricity will still come from fossil fuels more than twenty years from now. We must lead the world toward the time when fossil fuels burn cleaner until they can eventually provide minimal or no emissions at all," Manchin said.
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was one of the few leaders from West Virginia to take a measured stance in regard to the EPA's proposed policy, saying he supports its goal of safegarding the public's health, reminding people not to let fear guide them and coal still has a future.
"I understand the fears that these rules will eliminate jobs, hurt our communities, and drive up costs for working families," he said. "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," Rockefeller said.
The state has already seen successes with clean coal technology and countries around the world are innovating to reduce carbon emissions from coal, he said.
"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," Rockefeller said. "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."