Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

September 21, 2013

Coal leaders express concerns over new EPA clean air standards

BLUEFIELD — Reaction in the coalfields was immediate and solidly opposed to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s revised proposed rule relating to the Clean Air Act’s New Source Performance Standards.

“To me, for those who say there’s no war on coal, if they look at what the EPA is doing, there’s no way they could argue that the (President Barack) Obama Administration isn’t waging a war on coal,” Rick Taylor, president of the Pocahontas Coal Association said. “The new clean air standards are one thing, but in the near future, the EPA has some new water standards coming out that will require us to put cleaner water in the stream than the water that’s in there before mining.

“I don’t know that now is the time to reinvent the wheel in terms of energy while the economy is so fragile,” Taylor said. “James River Coal laid off more than 400 people last week at the McCoy Elkhorn mine in Pikeville, Ky. That’s 400 coal miners that won’t be thinking about how clean the air or water is. They’ll be thinking about how they’re going to feed their families. I understand that the administration can plan to do without fossil fuels in the future, but what is their plan to feed those families?”

Taylor said that the people of West Virginia haven’t experienced the full impact of the declining revenues from the loss of coal production. “When you think about the schools and the communities, there are a lot of things yet to come,” Taylor said.

Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said that coal-fired power plants in the Mountain State are already at 90 percent of compliance with EPA clean air requirements with 16 base load power plants. “Right now, the technology doesn’t exist — at least on a large scale — to get those plants in compliance right now.”

Raney said that the Obama Administration’s actions “represent an absolute attack on the coal-producing states,” Raney said. “The McCoy Elkhorn layoffs are tough, but so are the 3,000 to 4,000 coal miners in West Virginia that have been laid off.

“You also have to consider what the impact will be on people who live in coal country,” Raney said. “With even greater clean air standards, electric utilities will have to increase rates in order to comply with the new requirements. Power rates are going to go up, but we have a lot of people in the coalfields who are already on fixed incomes and they can’t afford much more.

“You can’t have a secure grid in this country without coal and without gas,” Raney said. “Because of the requirements, coal-fired power plants won’t be able to operate. Look at all the businesses here in West Virginia. Who do you think goes to all the car dealerships in the Bluefield and Princeton area? A lot of them are coal miners. If they’re out of work, they won’t be buying cars.”

Raney said that he has learned that the Obama Administration wants to cut funds for carbon-control research. “It’s a sad day,” he said. “I’m calling this thing an energy tax. At some point, we’re going to have to look at ourselves and ask ourselves just how much carbon control do we need to have here.”

Raney said that U.S. Rep. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., introduced a bill that would require the U.S. to hold off on introducing more carbon control regulations until the rest of the world has caught up to where the U.S. is today. “We need to ask ourselves, just how much of this do we need at this point,” Raney said.

Consol Energy spokesperson Lynn Seay, director of media relations, issued a press release calling EPA’s actions, “dangerous and unnecessary ... at a time when the U.S. continues to sluggishly inch toward economic recovery.” Seay also stated that Obama is “legislating through regulatory bodies,” ignoring public opinion, and “putting our most abundant and affordable domestic resource on the sidelines.”

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin III, stated in a press release that, “the new source performance standard is direct evidence that this administration is trying to hold the coal industry to impossible standards,” and added, “never before has the federal government forced an industry to do something that is technologically impossible.”

Manchin stated in the press release that forcing the coal industry to meet the same standards of the gas industry “makes absolutely no sense and will have devastating impacts to the coal industry and our economy.”

U.S. Senator John D. “Jay” Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called the new regulation, “a daunting challenge” and also “a call to action,” but expressed confidence that West Virginians are equal to the challenges of meeting the challenge. Like Rockefeller, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., also appeared to support EPA’s new regulations, but added: “We have an obligation to reduce carbon emissions in a way that makes economic sense.”

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., issued a statement indicating that the new rule: “Is just the latest salvo in EPA’s war on coal,” and vowed to “work tirelessly to prevent such an ill-conceived and illogical plan from moving forward.”

U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., issued a statement calling on “President Obama and EPA Administrator (Gina) McCarthy to declare a ceasefire in the war on coal and stop the regulatory assault on America’s power sector, related businesses and hard-working American people.”

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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