Bill signing highlights West Virginia coal forum - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Bill signing highlights West Virginia coal forum

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The message was clear at the West Virginia Coal Forum, which took place at the Logan High School Field House May 6.

It’s coal — Friends of Coal in particular — vs. the Environmental Protection Agency, and West Virginia’s economic future weighs in the balance.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin used the setting, in front of an auditorium of high school students along with local chamber of commerce members, to ceremoniously sign House Bill 4346 into law.

The legislation was formally approved by Tomblin April 1. In short, its aim is to establish separate standards of performance for carbon dioxide emissions.

More specifically, the bill attempts to “show the state’s plan to reduce carbon pollution and greenhouse gas production under the Clean Air Act; establish separate standards of performance for carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired electric generating units; establish separate standards of performance for natural gas-fired electric generating units and factors and considerations to be reflected in the developed state plan,” the bill states.

The measure completed the legislative process March 8, the final day of the 2014 regular legislative session, and is set to go into effect 90 days from its passage.

“It allows for our state department of environmental protection to come up with various programs and plans to deal with the EPA,” Tomblin explained. “Once we get that done, they’ll be presented to the federal level, hoping that this will help us in that attempt, to work with the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection.”

Tomblin expressed his hope at the forum that the bill might make a difference in the war on coal.

“The EPA is a very powerful federal agency that has jurisdiction over our emissions,” he said. “One of the things I’ve attempted to do during my administration is to be able to work with the EPA.”

Tomblin said the state has made strides in cleaning its waterways as well as cleaning air emissions.

“We want to continue to have a good, clean environment,” he said. “In this situation, with the amount of (electric) power that we manufacture and export in West Virginia, and having to close down (coal-fired plants) because of the emissions standards, it’s really going to have a national affect by not having the ability to continue to be a world leader for power in our country.

“We’ve been asking the (EPA) administrator to work with us, to find the technology that we need to sequester the carbon, that’s going to be illegal to emit in the next several months.”

Tomblin said states need to work with the EPA to figure out ways to continue to mine coal and burn it cleanly.

Officials at the forum said the EPA has not shown any indication that it’s putting forth the same effort states are to advance clean coal technology — or even a timeframe in which to make it happen.

“They have not given me that,” Tomblin said. “But I feel much better working with (EPA) administrator (Gina) McCarthy than with her predecessor. She seems very willing to listen.

“We recently got a letter from her that said ‘That’s the kind of input that we need.’ Obviously, their job is to clean up, and make sure the environment is clean and safe. The Secretary of Energy is pushing for our energy to be used. The federal administration needs to be talking to each other. They need to look at the ramifications of what some of the rules are going to be on our economy, people’s lives, their jobs and their children.”

Chris Hamilton of the West Virginia Coal Association called House Bill 4346 “a major piece of legislation,” comparing it to “the time that Sen. Joe Manchin took a shot at (President Barack) Obama’s cap and trade legislation.”

With House Bill 4346, “Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is making the same kind of statement,” Hamilton added.

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., also was in attendance, and used strong language in defense of the coal industry.

“I staunchly oppose the EPA’s bull-headed actions against coal,” he said. “I am in this battle for the long-haul, and don’t let anyone tell you different.

“We recognize that maintaining coal-fired power is a matter of national security and the basic safety of our citizens,” Rahall, who is running for re-election, added. “That is a message that needs to sink in to the thick noggins of those ideological naysayers who are waging their ill-conceived war against coal.”

Rahall predicted coal will “bounce back” because “coal is the future of America.”

Because of EPA regulations, many coal backers reserve their optimism, including West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney.

“I’m not encouraged at the EPA at all,” Raney said. “Not in any sense of the word. I hope that they see the light and let the states do what they’re authorized to do, within the clean air act, with the existing plants.

“The states are supposed to have a great deal of authority to do the plan that they feel works best for them. EPA has not allowed the states to do that in the Clean Water Act and, so far, in the Clean Air Act. I hope they see that, because of the amount of devastation that it’s going to have on our jobs and our people. They’ve got to take that into consideration.”

Raney recognized Tomblin’s bill signing as a step toward progress.

“I think it has a tremendous impact because it carries a legislative message of support to the governor and his air quality office that has got to come up with a state implementation plan,” Raney said. “It says that ‘We’re with you. We want you to consider all of these things — the economy and other things. Whether the EPA wants you to or not, you’ve got to.’

“That’s got to become our justification for why it is that we want to send this plan in to protect our plants and to protect our coal miners. That’s why we think it’s important.”

Raney said House Bill 4346 shows that West Virginia’s Legislature and governor are in agreement.

“So the state is solid in saying we’re going to do our best to meet the standard the EPA puts out there,” he said. “But we need to tell the EPA how we can best do it, because 97 percent of our power comes from coal, to generate electricity.”

Several speakers at the coal forum pointed to the recent winter as reason for the strong need for coal, citing coal plants working at 90 percent or better capacity at peak times.

Without the coal plants producing, the nation’s electricity resources would have been diminished, they warned.

“We came close to brownouts and blackouts in January and February,” Raney said. “Now the plants that were running at 90 percent are going to come offline next year. There’s nothing there to take up that slack.

“I think the EPA is on a mission to do away with coal, and I have know idea why, because they don’t offer a viable alternative.”

Raney called it frustrating.

“And they want to dress it up as carbon control sequestration – things that don’t exist today – and it’s all going to be on the backs of consumers,” he said. “The people are not going to be able to afford their electricity rates. It’s a shame, because you shouldn’t have to make a choice between food, a doctor or paying your electric bill.

“That’s what EPA is forcing people to do.”