Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

June 3, 2014

Tough call in coal country

W.Va., Va. lawmakers weigh in on rule

WASHINGTON — Area lawmakers had a mixed reaction Monday to the controversial new power plant rules announced by President Barack Obama. Most pointed to the carbon emission rules as proof of a war on a coal. But at least two Democratic lawmakers serving the region pointed to rising sea levels near coastal cities in Virginia as a need for action.

U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said he was particularly dismayed after hearing televised comments made by Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that suggested electricity rates would decrease — and not increase — under the new power plant rules.

“The president knows that is not true,” Griffith, who represents Virginia’s 9th Congressional District, said in a telephone interview with the Daily Telegraph.

Griffith said Obama was quoted as saying in a 2008 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle that electricity rates would “necessarily skyrocket” under the new rules.

“He knows what this is going to do to the middle class American family,” Griffith said. “It is going to devastate our area because we are going to lose coal jobs. Everybody is going to feel the pain (with higher electrical rates). They said it was going to reduce demand for electricity. I think they may be right. Because when you shut down the manufacturing facilities, and send them to China, there is less demand. Fewer jobs will mean lower demand.”

Griffith said two out of three coal-powered plants are closing in Southwest Virginia as a result of the new rules, including the Glen Lyn, Va., plant in Giles County and a similar plant in Russell County. A third will remain open but convert from coal to natural gas.

Griffith said he isn’t surprised that Obama is utilizing executive powers and acting without congressional approval in rolling out the new rules.

“It is typical of the president,” Griffith said. “He doesn’t want Congress involved. But Congress should be involved. There is absolutely no question about it.”

Griffith said it will take a Republican-controlled Senate working in conjunction with the GOP-controlled House to block the new rules. He says voters in coal-producing states can send a strong message to Obama this November.

“There are about 22 coal-producing states,” Griffith said. “There are a lot of states where coal is a big deal, and it will make a difference in a lot of these races, and it should make a difference. But if you are going to change Washington, you have to change the U.S. Senate.”

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said he will introduce legislation along with U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., to terminate the new rule for existing power plants, along with the proposed rule for future power plants.

“This is an unprecedented use of the Clean Air Act to wage war on an entire industry,” Rahall said. “Rather than requiring individual plants to meet pollution control standards by installing pollution controls, EPA is now interpreting the law to give it the ability to set standards across fleets of coal-fired power plants, seeking to make reductions in a nebulous fashion. This is overt bootstrapping and makes this proposal even more attractive to legislate or litigate against. I will introduce bipartisan legislation to block EPA from hijacking the Clean Air Act to target carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants in the manner it is proposing. When the time is ripe, I will also join in litigation to stop these rules from taking effect.”

However, Rahall’s opponent this November, Republican Evan Jenkins, said Rahall has backed Obama’s war on coal since day one.

“Nick Rahall talks tough now, but for years he's backed the president's war on coal and voted to give EPA the power and money to develop reckless regulations like these that destroy West Virginia jobs and send electricity rates skyrocketing,” Jenkins said. “The chickens are now coming home to roost. Nick Rahall enjoys 38 years of seniority in Washington, and a close relationship with Obama after sticking his neck out to campaign with him in pool halls across West Virginia during the 2008 primary; if he doesn’t have the power or the guts to dissuade his close friend from putting the coal industry out of business, then it’s clear he’s no longer fit to serve West Virginia’s Third Congressional District.”

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said the new rules announced Monday underscore Obama’s disdain for West Virginia coal. Capito is a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat that is being vacated this fall by the retirement of U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

“We are truly under attack in West Virginia,” Capito said. “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.”

West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, a Democrat who is challenging Capito for the U.S. Senate seat this fall, said she would announce her coal and energy jobs agenda during a press conference today in Beckley.

Tennant said she has expressed opposition to Obama’s regulations on coal-fired power plants because they will cost West Virginia jobs. Instead of regulations, Tennant said she advocates for incentives to help bring affordable advanced coal technology to market.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said he requested for the 60-day comment period to be doubled to 120 days on the new rules.

“Today the EPA proposed standards for carbon emissions for existing power plants,” Kaine said. “Reducing this carbon pollution is in our national interest, but we have an obligation to do it in a way that makes economic sense. I recently wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to request that the usual 60-day comment period be doubled to 120 days to allow maximum opportunity for citizens and stakeholders to analyze the rule and share concerns and ideas. I am gratified that EPA has agreed to this request, and I look forward to dialogue with Virginia families and businesses about the proposal.”

Kaine said recent alarming climate trends, including a rise in sea levels in Hampton Roads, demonstrate the need to reduce carbon pollution in energy production.

U.S. Sen. Marker Warner, D-Va., said Virginia is at the center of the debate.

“Virginia is at the center of the national debate on climate change, with our coalfields in Southwest Virginia and the Commonwealth’s coastal cities beginning to see the impact of sea rise,” Warner said. “These draft regulations on existing source carbon power plant emissions are complicated, consequential and far-reaching, and I am pleased the administration wisely decided to accept our recommendation to double the comment period from 60 to 120 days. This is a first step in a very long process, and it is important that Virginians have a full and fair opportunity to express their views on the proposed rule. I will review the EPA proposal and consult with a broad variety of Virginia stakeholders on these issues. I will work to ensure that any final rule provides Virginia with adequate flexibility, enhances innovation and research and development in clean coal, and ensures that we maintain a safe and reliable energy network to power a competitive economy.”

Republicans have not yet nominated an opponent to challenge Warner this fall, although Ed Gillespie is favored to get the nod at this Saturday’s Virginia Republican convention in Roanoke.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said the new EPA rules amount to a massive, job-killing energy tax that will harm West Virginia families.

“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. “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. 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.”

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