MORGANTOWN - Sen. Joe Manchin and the head of the state Division of Energy hope American Electric Power's planned closure of the Marshall County Kammer plant this year does not signal the end for West Virginia's 96-percent reliance on coal-fired power.
However, both know the federal Environmental Protection Agency is determined to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through stricter enforcement of the Clean Air Act, so they are doing what they can to protect West Virginia's 17,000 coal mining jobs - and nearly 64,000 others supported by the coal industry.
"The EPA needs to understand that they've got to work with us - not against us," Manchin, D-W.Va., said Monday during the West Virginia University College of Law's 2014 Energy Conference, sponsored by Steptoe & Johnson. "There is going to be more coal being burned - more CO2 being emitted - than ever if we don't work together."
Jeff Herholdt is director of the state Division of Energy, an arm of the West Virginia Department of Commerce. He said 600 megawatts of coal-fired power will come off the grid when AEP shuts down the Kammer plant this year.
Herholdt and Manchin also said that even as domestic coal burning declines, countries such as India and China are dramatically increasing their carbon footprints. Manchin said he believes in climate change, but said the U.S. cannot reverse the trend unless these Asian nations begin reducing their emissions.
"We don't have all of the answers, but we are not wrong all the time, either," Manchin said.
Manchin mentioned the burgeoning Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas rush can also face regulations under the Clean Air Act, noting, "If any of you think that natural gas is not going to be affected by this, you'd better take another look."
Herholdt said in addition to the 96 percent of Mountain State electricity that coal generates, wind power and hydroelectric power generate 2 percent each. Although this seems to leave an opening for natural gas-fired power, he said this is not likely to happen soon.
"Natural gas could eventually step up, but we need more pipelines to get the gas there," he said. "We have to appreciate how unstable natural gas prices are. That is not the best source for electricity."
Manchin also said EPA officials should be able to help West Virginia officials investigate the chemical spill that left about 300,000 Charleston-area customers without water earlier this year.
"We should be able to work together, despite our differences," he said. "We need (EPA Administrator) Gina McCarthy and President Obama. We need them to work with us."
Also addressing the conference was Daniel Lashof, director for the Climate and Clean Air Program for the New York City-based Natural Resources Defense Council. He said some people blame his organization for what he termed the "war on coal."
"When I told my wife I was going to speak at a conference in West Virginia, she asked me if I was going to need a police escort on the way out," he said.
"We recognize the role that coal has played in our economy and will continue to play," Lashof added.