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W.Va. Chamber urges EPA to visit coal states

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has joined its counterparts in 12 other states in criticizing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for not including coal country in a nationwide tour to gather comments about potential new Clean Air Act regulations.

On Sept. 30, the EPA announced it would hold 11 public "listening sessions" to gather ideas and input from the public about the best ways to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants.

The agency has already proposed new rules for new power plants that coal industry officials have criticized as too stringent. EPA officials are now beginning to craft new limits for existing plants in order to meet a June 2014 proposal deadline.

The EPA said in its September press release that the feedback from these sessions "will play an important role in helping EPA develop smart, cost-effective guidelines that reflect the latest and best information available."

The tour will hit major cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle. But many politicians have criticized the tour because it will not stop in areas where coal -- the commodity most-affected by new limits -- represents the majority of power generation.

State Chamber President Steve Roberts said the new rules could have a significant affect on West Virginia, which gets 95 percent of its power supply from coal and has its mining industry tied to producing coal for power plants in other states.

"San Francisco, which derives only 1 percent of its electricity from coal, will be one of the EPA's stops," Roberts said in a statement. "Either the Obama administration is unbelievably out of touch or they are afraid to talk to those who are forced to accept their policies."

Roberts has joined Chamber leaders from states like Kentucky, which gets 92 percent of its power from coal, and North Dakota, which is 78-percent coal-powered, to urge the EPA to visit states where coal makes up a higher percentage of its electricity mix.

Last month, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., introduced a resolution requiring the EPA to hold public comment hearings in each of the 15 states most reliant on coal for electricity generation.

"Excluding all of the states that rely on coal the most from the listening process smacks of outright arrogance by the agency and is a transparent attempt to avoid hearing opinions that differ from the EPA's preconceived ideas," Capito said at the time.

Democratic leaders, including Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., have also criticized the agency's hearing schedule.

"You want to have a fight about beans, go to Boston. Want to fight about sourdough bread, go to San Francisco," Rahall said at a coal miner's rally at the U.S. Capitol last week.

"But you want to have a fight about coal, you come over to coal country," he said. "You come on over and listen and maybe you will learn a thing or two about what your policies and your politics are doing to real people."

A delegation of state Democrats, including Rahall, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Sen. Joe Manchin and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, met with new EPA administrator Gina McCarthy in early August to discuss coal issues.

The group expressed "cautious optimism" after the meeting, saying McCarthy and EPA staff seemed open to the state's concerns and willing to work together in the future.

Roberts said the agency's decision to skip West Virginia in its listening tour was a sign the state Democrats' meeting had little effect.

"If the EPA is unwilling to listen to states like West Virginia, one has to wonder how successful their visit was," Roberts said.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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