Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 29, 2014

Virginia lawmakers fight for coal, send message to Obama

By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

RICHMOND, Va. — Eighty-five members of the Virginia General Assembly are sending a unified message of opposition to President Barack Obama as it relates to controversial new rules aimed at reducing carbon emissions at coal-fired power plants.

“We think it is important that President Obama understands how important the coal industry is to Virginia’s economy and how harmful these proposed regulations will be for Virginia if they are put in place,” Sen. Phil Puckett, D-Russell, said Tuesday. “More than 45,000 Virginians work in the coal industry and their livelihood is at stake. They deserve to have their voices heard.”

Puckett was joined by Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Galax, Delegate Will Morefield, R-Tazewell, Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, Delegate Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon, and Delegate Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol, at a press conference Tuesday in Richmond where it was announced that 85 members of the General Assembly have now signed the letter of opposition. The lawmakers were joined by a delegation of state and business leaders at the press conference.

The letter has been sent to Obama as part of the EPA’s public comment period for its proposed New Source Performance Standards rules that aim to limit carbon emissions at new coal-fired power plants.

In order to meet the proposed standards, new coal-fired power plants would need to install expensive technology to capture carbon dioxide and bury it underground.

Opponents of the new rules argue that no coal-fired power plant has done that yet, in large part because of the cost. And they argue that even the Southwest Virginia-based Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center in Wise County — touted as one of the cleanest coal-fired power stations in the nation — could not be constructed again today under the proposed new EPA rules.

“With this letter, we are sending a strong message to President Obama and the EPA: these regulations are reckless and irresponsible, and they will hurt our economy,” Kilgore said in a joint press release issued by the lawmakers. “They will cost us jobs, and they will dangerously jeopardize our nation’s energy supply. These regulations are a threat to America’s most abundant energy resource, and they are a threat to Virginia’s economy, especially for the coal mining regions of Southwest Virginia that we represent.”

The lawmakers were joined at Tuesday’s press conference by Virginia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Barry DuVal, Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance (VCEA) Chairman Robert Litton, and several members of the VCEA board of directors and staff.

“Affordable, reliable electricity is a key ingredient to creating a business climate that attracts manufacturers and other major employers to Virginia,” DuVal said. “Taking coal out of our energy mix will increase the cost of doing business in Virginia and will make it much harder for us to attract and keep employers in our state. When our current fleet of coal plants comes off-line in the coming years, if we can’t build new coal plants we are going to have a very difficult time filling that huge gap in our electricity supply.”

Litton said the new EPA rules threaten thousands of jobs in Southwest Virginia while harming local counties that are dependent upon coal taxes for as much as 25 percent of their annual budget. Litton said the letter signed by the 85 lawmakers urges Obama to abandon the EPA’s latest proposal and instead to consider a more sensible approach to the nation’s energy policy.

The EPA will continue to receive public comments on the new rules until March 10.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com