WHEELING - Following the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's announcement Monday of proposed new limits on carbon emissions from power plants, area politicians and coal industry leaders wasted little time in denouncing them, using terms ranging from "narcissistic" to "illegal" to describe the rule.
In a move that's been anticipated for months, the EPA unveiled its first-ever regulations on emissions from existing power plants in a 645-page document that includes state-by-state standards and guidelines for states to develop strategies to meet a 2030 deadline to achieve them. An initial plan will be required by mid-2016, with final plans due by 2017 or 2018, depending on whether some states choose to work together.
According to the EPA, the rule gives states wide latitude to meet the new limits as they see fit. But opponents of the rule believe they are unrealistic and will have a devastating effect on the economy in states like West Virginia and Ohio that rely heavily on burning coal to generate electricity.
"Time and again, our president has basically demonstrated his lack of respect for coal and, really, his war on coal," said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who is the GOP's nominee for a U.S. Senate seat in November's election. "(Monday) is proof positive."
Capito's opponent in the Senate race, Democrat Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, offered a similar view, saying America should be investing in clean coal technology rather than achieving emission reductions through regulation.
"I will stand up to President Obama, (EPA Administrator) Gina McCarthy and anyone else who tries to undermine our coal jobs. Washington bureaucrats need to understand these are not numbers on a balance sheet - they are real people with families to feed," Tennant said. "I refuse to accept that we have to choose between clean air and good-paying jobs when I know West Virginia can lead the way in producing technology that does both."
Both Tennant and Capito roundly criticized EPA officials for ignoring West Virginia and other coal-rich states during its "listening tour" concerning the proposed rules. Further public hearings will be held in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., in late July and early August as the EPA looks to finalize the rule next June.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also believes the focus should be on improving technology
"There is no doubt that seven billion people have had an impact on our world's climate; however, the proposed EPA rule does little to address the global problem with global solutions," Manchin said. "Instead, (Monday's) rule appears to be more about desirability rather than reliability or feasibility, with little regard for rising consumer prices, the effects on jobs and the impact on the reliability of our electric grid. ...
"I have said again and again that government needs to work as an ally, not as an adversary, when it comes to developing our nation's energy policies. I stand ready to work with this administration and the EPA to develop common-sense solutions that strike a balance between a prosperous economy and a cleaner environment," he continued.
According to Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., the primary beneficiaries of the new EPA regulations will be countries such as China, India and Germany, where demand for coal-fired electricity continues to increase.
"For President Obama's climate change policies to work, the rest of the world would need to be in lockstep with us," McKinley said. "While he may be able to circumvent Congress, issue executive orders and use regulatory agencies to accomplish his goal at home, this authority doesn't extend to the rest of the world. ... This narcissistic move will sacrifice our economy in pursuit of a radical solution."
West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney has no doubt that electric bills will soar as a result of the new standards, despite EPA's assertions to the contrary.
"This rule is no good. ... It sets up winners and losers in this country, and West Virginia would be a big loser," Raney said.
Also opposing the new rule Monday were officials with Murray Energy, which operates several coal mines in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle and in East Ohio. According to St. Clairsville-based Murray, recent studies by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce predict the rule will dramatically reduce coal's role in powering America, providing just 14 percent of the nation's electricity generation by 2030 - in sharp contrast with EPA's figures, which predict America in 2030 still will be producing more than 30 percent of its electricity using coal.
"The Obama administration's proposed cap-and-tax mandates are absolutely illegal and will destroy millions of jobs, cripple the American economy and cause massive blackouts in this country," said Murray Energy spokesman Gary Broadbent.