CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold its first of two hearings on the future of the Clean Power Plan at the West Virginia State Capitol on Tuesday, with 220 speakers scheduled to speak during two sessions.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt signed a notice in October proposing scrapping the Obama administration policy regarding climate change, which is aimed at reducing carbon dioxide levels from power plants through numerous means. This includes allowing states to invest in renewable energy in hopes of limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
The rule was challenged shortly after its August 2015 introduction by 27 state attorneys general, including Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia and Pruitt, who was serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general at the time.
Morrisey is scheduled to speak during Tuesday’s morning session, as is U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., and representatives of Murray Energy Corp., West Virginia Coal Association and various advocacy groups.
Hal Quinn, president and chief executive officer of the National Mining Association, said on Monday’s edition of MetroNews “Talkline” additional regulations have hurt the coal industry.
“Clearly, on the market side, natural gas is one (issue), but to say that is a prime driver overlooks the fact that the coal sector was already saddled with a considerable amount of regulatory burdens that took some of these plants that were very competitive and made them uncompetitive,” he said.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas facilities generate 34 percent of the country’s energy compared to the 30 percent produced by the coal plants.
The U.S. Department of Energy released a report in August on the nation’s energy market, noting how to increased use of natural gas was the primary reason for the retirement of coal and nuclear power plants.
Quinn added the coal industry’s future would stabilize if the Clean Power Plan were to be repealed.
“We’ll probably see coal exports, both in terms of metallurgical coal and steam exports, breaking the 80 million ton export mark, which will put it back to where it was traditionally,” he said. “We see it bouncing around that number the next several years.”
The EPA reported in its October proposal a repeal of the Clean Power Plan would provide up to $33 billion in savings for the country, while the agency downplayed the health benefits pointed out by the Obama administration in its original analysis.
Jim Kotcon, chairman of the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, said the health benefits of the Clean Power Plan cannot be ignored.
“The reductions in health pollutants from coal-burning power plants have very significant adverse health impacts,” he said. “Many people will have their lives significantly improved by reduced lung disease, heart disease and other problems that are associated with that air pollution.”
Kotcon, who is scheduled to speak Tuesday afternoon, said the United States needs to take a leading role in addressing climate change, no matter who is in the White House.
“The Clean Power Plan is a very critical step in helping to reduce America’s contribution to climate change,” he said.
Tuesday’s hearing is scheduled to go from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fifty speakers are scheduled to speak at Wednesday’s public hearing. The EPA will accept public comment on the proposal until Jan. 16.