Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 26, 2013

Coal in crosshairs

Area lawmakers: Proposed climate change regulations could cripple region

By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Far-reaching climate change regulations proposed Tuesday by President Barack Obama could have a crippling impact upon southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, industry officials and area lawmakers warned.

Obama, in a speech at Georgetown University, announced he was issuing a presidential memorandum — and thus bypassing congressional action — in launching the first-ever federal regulations on carbon dioxide emitted by existing coal-fired power plants. The Obama administration blames fossil fuels such as coal on global warming.

Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said such sweeping policy changes should be coming from Congress, and not the executive branch.

“It’s just another example of the arrogance (of the administration),” Raney said. “If Congress won’t approve it, he just takes off and does the arrogant step of doing it by administrative (action). Someone termed it this morning as economic disarmament for America. They are going to raise the price of energy. They are going to drive manufacturing jobs out of this country again. They are going to attempt to drive coal mining jobs away. Tell me what the purpose of it is? Now, all of a sudden, they want to blame us for the weather.”

There is not unanimous agreement over the science of climate change, according to Raney.

“When we begin to develop policy based upon what your personal beliefs are —you are going to have an impact on someone’s life and change their standard of living and cause someone to lose their job,” Raney said. “It’s just puzzling. We are trying to put this economy back together. And everything they are doing today is taking jobs away from the region, and Appalachian region and the mines and power plants. Then he (Obama) will make a speech at 6 p.m. in the evening about how the economy is getting better and stronger. It’s just amazing.”

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said Obama’s climate change plan is misguided, and could cost millions of jobs.

“The misguided, misinformed and untenable policy that the president put forth this afternoon puts at risk the energy security of America and the jobs of millions of our citizens,” Rahall said. “Locking away the fuels that power our nation behind ideologically imposed barriers will drive up costs for nearly every business and manner of industrial activity while driving jobs overseas. Households already struggling to make ends meet will see energy bills skyrocket.”

Rahall said the administration should be advocating new clean-coal technologies as opposed to crippling regulations.

“If the president was serious about reducing carbon emissions and growing our economy then he should not be issuing these crippling regulations until a feasible means exists to comply with them,” Rahall said. “Technology that enables fossil fuels to be burned more efficiently and cleanly, could be developed in concert with industry, exported to the rest of the world, which is responsible for more than 80 percent of carbon emissions, while creating jobs here at home. But instead, by choosing to travel the uncompromising path he laid out today, leaving energy producers without any realistic means to comply with whims of Washington bureaucrats, he is sowing the seeds for a less competitive nation.”

U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said Obama’s climate change plan constitutes a war on Southwest Virginia.

“I don’t think there is any pretense about their war on coal — there is no pretense left now,” Griffith, who represents Virginia’s 9th Congressional District, said. “The curtain has been pulled back, and the great and powerful Oz says there is now a war on coal. What it means for our region is the destruction of our economy. And what really bothers me is there is a better way. We have had a number of break throughs in clean coal technology. But that has not been the administration’s focus. It ought to be the administration’s focus.”

Griffith said lawmakers in the House, and the Senate, will attempt to stop Obama’s plan.

“I think you will see some action in the House,” Griffith said. “We are certainly going to try to slow this process down, and make sure that whatever is happening makes sense. But we are going to need help from our friends in the Senate, like Senator Manchin. Those of us who represent coal areas need to lock arms, and it doesn’t matter whether we are Democrats or Republicans. We need to fight this.”

Griffith said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., needs to join the fight.

However, Kaine issued a statement Tuesday applauding Obama’s climate action plan.

“Today, the president laid out a series of steps to address the negative effects of carbon pollution on our environment,” Kaine said in the statement. “I applaud the focus and am studying the details of the proposal with care. I believe the scientific consensus that we must reduce our reliance on carbon-based energy. America has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 9 percent since 2005 through innovation in energy use and production, dramatic improvements in energy efficiency and smart policy choices. We need to continue to make energy cleaner tomorrow than today as a strategy to tackle climate issues. For this reason, I have recently advocated that we avoid use of tar sands oil.”

Kaine added in his statement that the administration must be careful in phasing in the new requirements to not unduly impact communities that rely on coal production.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Obama’s plan will have disastrous consequences for not only the coal industry, but also American jobs and the economy.

“The regulations the president wants to force on coal are not feasible,” Manchin said. “And if it’s not feasible, it’s not reasonable. It’s clear now that the president has declared a war on coal. It’s simply unacceptable that one of the key elements of his climate change proposal places regulations on coal that are completely impossible to meet with existing technology. The fact is clear: our own energy department reports that our country will get 37 percent of our energy from coal until 2040. Removing coal from our energy mix will have disastrous consequences for our recovering economy. These policies punish American businesses by putting them at a competitive disadvantage with our global competitors. And those competitors burn seven-eighths of the world’s coal, and they’re not going to stop using coal any time soon. It is only common sense to use all our domestic resources, and that includes our coal.”

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he believes the science of climate change is real. However, Rockefeller said Obama’s plan will adversely impact West Virginia.

 “I understand the president wants to move forward on climate change, but his remarks today were short on details, and those details matter in the lives of West Virginians,” Rockefeller said. “Any action on climate change is going to have a direct effect on the lives of our mining communities that are already facing great uncertainties, and on the pocketbooks of every one of our middle-class families still dealing with a recovering job market. We need more from the president to assure our miners and working families they’re part of this plan. To begin with, we need to see a timeline, a cost estimate and to understand how communities that have relied on coal are going to be supported once these proposals take effect. I’m deeply concerned that, in its current form, there’s not enough emphasis in the president’s plan on the people who are the backbone of our economy and the fabric of our nation.”

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said the Mountain State will challenge Obama’s proposal, and ensure that the Constitution and the rule of law is correctly followed.

“I am deeply disappointed by President Obama’s decision to bypass Congress in his zeal to force his climate change agenda on America,” Morrisey, a Republican, said. “The president said today he wanted to make the United States a global leader in the war against climate change. But his battle plan will lead West Virginia further into an abyss of poverty, putting thousands of jobs at risk and putting the state’s budget in jeopardy. Here in West Virginia, we plan to review every word of every line of every page of these devastating proposals to develop ideas for how West Virginia can fight back. Since West Virginia is ground zero in the administration’s callous plans to expand poverty, our state must do everything possible to prevent violations of the Constitution and the rule of law.”

Raney, and area lawmakers, also questioned comments made Tuesday in the New York Times by Daniel P. Schrag, a member of a presidential science panel that has helped to advise the White House on climate change. Schrag was quoted in the newspaper as saying, “The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”

Those comments drew a quick rebuke from lawmakers.

“The outrageous comments by Mr. Schrag show utter contempt for those who work every day to power our nation and they reveal his complete ignorance of American’s economic and energy needs,” Rahall said.

“President Obama and his administration have long been waging this war, but today, his comments and the comments of adviser Daniel P. Schrag saying ‘…a war on coal is exactly what’s needed’ make it clear that the president wants to destroy the coal industry, the use of coal, and a huge segment of our economy,” Griffith said.

“That guy needs to come down here and look at a coal miner in the eye — and say ‘I’m going to do this but it will cost you your job and you will need to move out of West Virginia,’” Raney said. “He needs to come here and see the direct impact of these policies.”

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com