Senator Rockefeller: Time To Make EPA Answer For Anti-Coal Agenda


Senator Rockefeller: 
Time To Make EPA Answer For Anti-Coal Agenda

By: Paul Arbogast

The West Virginia Roundtable continues to have grave concerns about the challenges facing the state’s coal mining and coal-fired electric generation industries.  Our state’s coal economy is facing a number of unprecedented circumstances.  Some factors are due to market dynamics, but others clearly are due to a federal regulatory agenda that apparently wants nothing more than the elimination of coal – some say especially Appalachian coal – as a domestic energy source and as a major employer.  If they succeed, there is little doubt EPA’s attention would then fully turn on the natural gas industry. 

The federal regulatory agenda against coal is very apparent when one examines the numerous environmental regulations, directives and guidances that have been developed since the Obama Administration has come into office.  This “assault” is clearly evident in recent federal court rulings against the United States Environmental Protection Agency, whereby four different courts have ruled against the agency’s arbitrary and unprecedented actions against the coal and coal-fired electric generating industries.  And understanding that there is no alternative to continuing to burn carbon based fuels for the foreseeable future, the EPA’s mission can only be viewed as political—not science based.

In four different rulings recently, new rules or regulations developed by the EPA have been thrown out by federal courts.  And, in all of these cases, the courts have admonished the EPA for overreaching its statutory and regulatory power and overstepping states’ authority.  These EPA actions, as well as others, are viewed by many in and out of West Virginia as the EPA’s continued attempt to end, or severely decline, the use of coal to generate electricity. 

The most recent of these rulings came on August 21 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. The rule would have defined emissions responsibilities for 28 upwind states based on their contributions to downwind states' air quality problems. The court vacated the Transport Rule for two reasons: First, the rule went far beyond the EPA's express statutory authority by requiring the upwind states to reduce their emissions by more than their own "significant contributions" to downwind states' air quality. Second, the rule failed to give states the initial opportunity to implement the required reductions with respect to sources within their borders.

Helping in this battle against EPA are nearly all elected leaders in our state.  They are fighting to help protect the jobs of our state’s coal miners, support small business owners who rely on a vibrant coal economy and defend electric customers who enjoy the reliable and affordable rates of our coal-fired electric generation.  However, one elected leader (Senator Rockefeller) recently has taken a different viewpoint. 

Senator Rockefeller voted against SJR 37, a measure to send the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency back to the drawing board regarding the Mercury & Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule.  Senator Rockefeller’s support for SJR 37 would have sent a clear message – regardless of whether the measure passed or not – that he recognized the unfair and increasing burden the EPA has placed on our state’s coal and power generating industries.  It would have shown that our state’s leaders are united in support of a more rational approach to balancing our state and region’s economy with environmental stewardship.

As I have said, market conditions are a key driving factor regarding the current health of the state’s coal industry….but government policies and regulations should not be trying to result in the demise of an industry over the long-term. With job losses already mounting in our coalfields, something must be done to change the course.  Otherwise, Appalachian coal faces a bleak future and natural gas’s potential will not be realized. 

The West Virginia Roundtable requests Senator Rockefeller, as Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology, to call on EPA to answer for its action and to conduct hearings on the agency’s barrage of anti-coal regulations.  Moreover, he also needs to get to the bottom as to why EPA continues its delay of scores of mining permits in Central Appalachia.  These permit delays have included the “reinterpretation of regulations” relating to permits already issued and the revocation of those permits.  Mining companies have to invest tens of millions of dollars to get permits approved and the EPA’s retroactive revocation of legally issued permits just adds another level of uncertainty to the investment decisions.  These practices are only compounding the uncertainty and anxiety that exists today in West Virginia’s coalfields and throughout coal communities.

EPA’s relentless regulatory assault against coal is only compounding the challenges facing this state’s energy-based economy and making it unattractive for further investment and extremely difficult to continue mining in Appalachia. 

We call on Senator Rockefeller to make the EPA answer for its actions and to explain to our state’s businesses and citizens how its regulatory agenda is anything other than an all out “war on coal.”

Paul Arbogast is President of the West Virginia Roundtable.