IT'S no secret that the West Virginia coal industry is facing a long period of declining demand, and therefore, declining production.
The Center for Business and Economic Research at Marshall University forecasts that West Virginia coal production will gradually decline from 119.8 million tons in 2013 to 94.7 million tons in 2035. Nationally, the outlook for coal, according to the Energy Information Administration, shows a few declining years before a gradual but slight increase in use from 2018 on past 2035. Apparently that small rise won't include West Virginia coal.
With coal already on the decline or mostly steady, why then, does the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seem so bent on practically regulating this abundant resource and electricity generator out of existence?
In West Virginia, coal directly provided 19,320 jobs in 2012 (a 29 percent drop since 2008, by the way) and $531 million in severance tax revenue (forecast to drop to $420 million in 2014, by the way).
If the energy experts are right, carbon emissions from coal plants would naturally drop as fewer new coal burning power plants came on line - due to increased availability of low-cost natural gas and aging, less efficient plants were gradually closed because of their declining efficiency rates.
But the Obama administration's EPA insists on serious restrictions of the coal industry sooner, rather than allowing market forces to work. On Friday, the EPA pressed ahead with tough regulations on new power plant emissions, with new regulations for existing plants expected to come in 2014.
With lower demand and greater use of alternatives like natural gas, no such job killing regulations are needed. In West Virginia, production would decline gradually, as would job displacement, giving many in West Virginia the opportunity to learn other trades and pursue other careers on a gradual, rather than rushed basis.
And why would the EPA even issue a new ruling to lower carbon emissions when by its own analysis the proposal issued Friday concludes that the new regulations would have "negligible" impact on carbon dioxide emissions?
This policy doesn't look at the entire picture. There are potentially expensive unintended consequences that affect U.S. jobs and while giving a competitive advantage to other coal-producing countries.
Congress needs to revisit EPA's mission and have the agency consider whether the costs of its policies outweigh the benefits.