CHARLESTON - A new plan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, but many business leaders and others with ties to West Virginia believe this new plan will have a devastating impact to the state's coal industry and economy.
The EPA released details of the new proposed Clean Power Plan, which it said will cut down on harmful carbon pollutants coming from U.S. power plants and protect public health, move the United States toward a cleaner environment and fight climate change while supplying Americans with reliable and affordable power, according to a press release from the EPA.
According to the plan, by 2030, the EPA will make sure to cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels, which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year; cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit; avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days - providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits; and shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system.
A coal train slowly travels past White Bluff power plant near Redfield, Ark., Monday. Arkansas environmental officials plan to meet with utility regulators later in the month to discuss how to implement an Environmental Protection Agency request to cut power plant emissions. (AP Photo)
"By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. "We don't have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment; our action will sharpen America's competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs."
However, many business leaders see this plan only hurting West Virginia and its economy as coal is a major contributor to the state's economy.
The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce was highly critical of the new plan, saying it would have a harsh impact on the nation's economy and more specifically, states whose economies are closely tied to energy, according to President Steve Roberts.
A report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy has estimated the U.S. GDP will be $51 billion lower with 224,000 fewer jobs each year through 2030 because of the new rules.
"What is most baffling about President Obama's new rules is that reports indicate they will only reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.8 percent while the global carbon emission levels are expected to increase by 31 percent between 2011 and 2030," Roberts said.
"That is just unnecessarily hindering our economy while the rest of the world waves and passes us.
"The Obama Administration seems incapable of changing course to create jobs, speed the slowest economic recovery since World War II and help strengthen families. A government of regulatory nightmares, more opportunity for lawsuits, less productivity and more emphasis on bigger government with more people dependent upon public assistance seems to describe the last 5.5 years under the Obama vision for America."
The West Virginia Coal Association claims the EPA is ignoring the tremendous impacts the new proposal will have on coal mining-dependent states and low-income populations.
"This rule, if implemented, will prohibit the construction of new coal-fired power plants in America, further decrease the reliability of America's power grid and raise consumer electric rates," said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association. "As we've stated all along, these rules are another attempt by the Obama Administration to put the coal industry - and tens of thousands of West Virginians employed by it - out of work.
"While the proposed rule is fraught with technical flaws that betray the intent of Congress in passing the Clear Air Act and we question the rules' legality, the bottom line is that this will shred the reliability of our nation's electrical system and drastically increase costs to consumers at a time when they can least afford it. Unfortunately, the outrageous standards these rules set haven't been demonstrated to be technically feasible and can't be implemented at a reasonable cost."
The regulations on existing power plants, announced Monday, will result in a significant and further erosion of West Virginia's coal employment base, said Joel Watts, administrator for the West Virginia Coal Forum, a group representing both mine labor and management across the state.
Watts said the impact of these rules are already having an impact in West Virginia. Three power plants have closed (First Energy's Rivesville, Albright and Willow Island Plants) and three more (AEP's Phillip Sporn, Kammer and Kanawha River Plants) are set to close this year. The net result is the loss of 3,500-4,000 direct mining jobs and potentially as many as 20,000 mining-dependent jobs.
"This new rule, coupled with other recent emission-related regulations promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has forced the closure or planned closure of hundreds of power plants across the country," Watts said. "As coal-fired power plants close, the need for West Virginia coal to power them - and the thousands of miners who produce it - goes away."
Based on a preliminary economic analysis, the related decrease in coal production would result in the loss of approximately 175,000 direct mining, utility and railroad jobs and a total of 600,000 jobs from the American economy, said Chris Hamilton, co-chairman of the WV Coal Forum and senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
"Additionally, coal consumption for electric generation would decrease by 13 percent or by 120 million tons by 2020 and by 46 percent, or 430 million tons, by 2030 in order to meet this standard," he said.