Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 16, 2009

Boucher: Cap and trade deal preserves coal jobs

By CHARLES OWENS

WASHINGTON — The House Energy and Commerce Committee has reached a tentative agreement on federal legislation that will control greenhouses gases while also preserving coal jobs, according to U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, Va.

“For about the last six weeks, I’ve been involved in an intensive and continuous negotiation with the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee that is Henry Waxman from California,” Boucher said. “We reached a tentative agreement on legislation that will control greenhouse gases. That measure can now be brought before the full Energy and Commerce Committee for passage.”

Boucher said the agreement will be presented to the Energy and Commerce Committee Monday.

“The fact is that we will inevitably have controls on greenhouse gases,” Boucher said. “Refraining from controlling is no longer an option. The Supreme Court ended the debate two years ago when it held that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate green gas unless the Congress regulates first. Virtually all stakeholders — from the electric utility to the coal industry to environmental groups — would prefer that Congress adopt the regulation. And so I’ve been working extensively to fashion a controlled program that Congress can adopt which will preserve coal jobs, create the opportunity for increasing coal production and keep electricity rates in regions like Southwest Virginia affordable. The compromise that I have reached with Chairman Waxman achieves those goals.”

Boucher said there are several provisions in the tentative agreement.

“First we provide emission allowances under a cap and trade program to electric utilities for free,” Boucher said. “That provision will keep electricity rates affordable in regions where most of the electricity is coal fired, and Southwest Virginia is certainly such a region. Secondly, we provide two billion tons of offset each year during the life of the program. Those offsets would enable electric utilities like AEP (American Electric Power) to invest in forestry, agriculture and projects like tropical rain forest preservation in order to meet their CO2 reduction requirements under legislation. Therefore, they can comply with the law while continuing to burn coal.”

Boucher said the compromise agreement also would speed the flow of federal funding into the latest generation of clean coal technology, including carbon dioxide capture and sequestrian technology.

“Under that measure, $1 billion dollars per year would flow over a 10-year period into carbon capture and sequestrian research,” Boucher said.

Boucher said additional improvements also will be sought beyond the draft agreement.

“One key area —the required level of reductions of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 is 17 percent from 2005 levels — that is what the draft provides,” Boucher said. “Chairman Waxman had originally sought a 20 percent reduction, and he has agreed to come down to 17 percent. I continue to believe that a lower number of 14 percent will improve our opportunity to preserve coal jobs, increase coal sales and at the same time keep electricity rates affordable. So I’m going to continue to urge a 14 percent reduction number in future steps in the legislative process. That would mean House floor consideration, and consideration of the bill in the Senate. In fact, I have already briefed Mark Warner on the status of our negotiations in the House.”

Boucher said the agreement is a “landmark compromise” that opens the door for the future regulation of greenhouse gas controls in an economically responsible manner.

“In the course of conducting other negotiations, I have had continued conversations with coal companies — both locally and nationally — including the chief executive officers of CONSOL — Brett Harvey, which operates the largest mine in Southwest Virginia, and Michael Quillen, the chief executive officer of Alpha, which is our region’s largest coal producer,” Boucher said. “I have been in discussions with Mike Morris, the chief executive officer of AEP, and Tom Ferrell, who is chief executive officer of Dominion, which is Virginia’s largest electricity supplier. I have also been in continual discussions with Cecil Roberts, the president of the United Mine Workers of America. All of the gentleman I’ve mentioned are in agreement that the legislation should move through the Energy and Commerce next week, and we are all in agreement that further improvements in the legislation will be needed in the future steps in the legislative process.”

– Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com