Many fear EPA rules will hurt WV industry
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Few specifics are known about federal carbon emissions standards set for release next week.
But reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules could harm the coal industry drew fierce responses from several West Virginia politicians and industry officials.
By the end of next week, the EPA must issue proposed carbon emissions standards for newlybuilt coal-fired power plants in the country. Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal both reported those rules will force any new plants to use equipment that industry officials contend either does not exist or is too expensive.
There is no reason to expect the rules won't hurt the coal industry, said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
"The anticipation is not very good," Raney said. "We're expecting it to be very damaging to West Virginia and the Appalachian states and coal-burning utilities."
Raney again said the technology to effectively reduce emissions or "capture" the carbon isn't a feasible option for facilities in the short term. It would realistically take years to implement the technology, at a significant cost, he said.
Lobbyists for the coal industry and the utility companies could still meet with the administration before the rules are released. Rob Goodwin, a project coordinator for the environmental activist group Coal River Mountain Watch, said he expected those opposed to the regulations to continue to argue for leniency.
Goodwin said the changes are unfortunate for those who rely on the coal industry for a job. But the federal government is required to impose limits on carbon emissions, and the industry had its chance to prepare for the changes, he said.
"Really, it's long overdue," Goodwin said. "I think these rules don't go far enough to regulate greenhouse gas emissions."
West Virginia politicians were quick to take reports of the potential rules as proof of a national "war on coal."
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, DW. Va., lashed out at the EPA, vowing to "lead another battle" in his fight against regulations deemed to overreach.
"It is simply unacceptable that the EPA chooses to hold coal and gas to the same emissions standards when experts know it is technologically impossible," Manchin said in a statement also provided to the Wall Street Journal.
"The proposed regulations attempt to force standards on coal emissions that cannot be achieved, even with the most advanced current technology."
Last year, the EPA proposed limits on carbon dioxide and emissions from gas-fired plants that were the same, according to the Wall Street Journal. The newspaper's sources say the EPA is considering only slightly relaxing the standards for coal-fired plants in its new regulations.
Manchin said the potential rule would still have a "devastating" effect on coal production. He pledged to pursue legislation if the EPA did move forward with the reported rules.
In recent months, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., has spoken out against the EPA regulations and the climate change policy of President Barack Obama's administration. He used a more tempered tone Thursday to discuss his views of the potentially new standards.
"Coal will continue to serve as a key domestic fuel for generations to come, and any reasonable, workable national energy strategy must recognize that fact," Rahall said in a comment emailed by a spokesman.
"I have long advocated cleaner coal technologies, including carbon capture and sequestration, and believe that the Federal government cannot regulate emissions reductions without also committing to renewed, long-term investment in and widespread deployment of these advances to ensure our own energy security and economic strength." Republican political operatives again took the opportunity to attack Rahall.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, a national organization that advocates for GOP candidates in Congress, said the proposed regulations were proof the congressman supported Obama's policies. State Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas issued a statement Wednesday saying Rahall did not do enough to protect coal jobs in the state.
Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley, both RW. Va. and frequent critics of the EPA, both tweeted links to stories about the potential regulations.
Capito's Senate campaign Twitter account posted a link to a petition that people could sign to "stop" the new regulations. McKinley tweeted "more bad news for West Virginia and the country's economy."
Spokespeople for Capito and McKinley did not return a request for comment. Neither did a spokesman for Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal cite anonymous sources reportedly familiar with the rules. The sources also said the specifics of the rules could change before they are released some time next week.
Goodwin thinks everyone should reserve judgment until the rules are released.
"All of this is very, very premature. I really think people need to wait and see what (the EPA) says," Goodwin said.
The rules released next week will only apply to coal-fired power plants built in the future. The EPA will announce regulations for currently operating plants by June 1, 2014.