CHARLESTON, W.Va. – President Trump vowed to continue efforts to support West Virginia’s coal industry on a day his Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new rule to relax carbon emissions limits on power plants.
Trump told a cheering crowd at the Charleston Civic Center that the proposal “will help our coal-fired power plants and save everybody billions and billions of dollars.”
Much of what’s to come on Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy proposal remains to be seen as it now moves toward a comment period, regulatory review and legal challenges.
Its unveiling was the biggest policy news of the day for the Trump administration, although the president just briefly touched on it.
The president spoke about an array of issues over about an hour and a half, including immigration and his longstanding proposal for a wall along the border with Mexico, international trade and tariffs, the role of NATO and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
His discussion of the economy, particularly coal, might have hit closest to home with the crowd of West Virginians.
Trump vowed to help the last time he visited Charleston in the heat of the 2016 Republican primary.
“We are back. The coal industry is back,” the president said this time.
The federal Bureau for Labor Statistics does show growth in national coal employment over the past year – now at 53,000 jobs compared to 52,000 this time last year. That’s significantly down from a decade ago when there were 86,000 coal jobs by the end of 2008.
Still, the coal industry describes itself as thankful for stability.
Trump’s speech just momentarily landed on the proposal rolled out by the EPA earlier Tuesday morning. He described energy sources like wind mills and solar panels as fragile.
“You can do a lot of things with those solar panels,” he said. “But you know what you can’t hurt? Coal.”
The EPA’s announcement described the emissions proposal as in keeping with Trump’s goals on energy.
“Today’s proposal provides the states and regulated community the certainty they need to continue environmental progress while fulfilling President Trump’s goal of energy dominance,” stated Andrew Wheeler, the EPA’s acting administrator.
The rule would replace the 2015 Clean Power Plan, which was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court and has never gone into effect.
The fights that have taken place over the Clean Air Act may be mirrored by legal battles over the new Affordable Clean Energy proposal.
Many questions were already arising, including legal challenges, whether future administrations would embrace the proposal, how much such a plan would actually affect coal markets in the face of competition from natural gas and what affect there would be on decisions by power companies as they make long-term decisions about their infrastructure.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, whose candidacy for U.S. Senate was another focal point of the Trump visit, praised the proposal.
“The EPA’s proposal represents a crucial step in restoring law and order,” stated Morrisey, a Republican whose office challenged the Clean Power Plan in federal court.
“The Affordable Clean Energy rule makes important strides in reversing the Obama-era Power Plan. Our coalition will closely examine the proposal and continue to support President Trump’s administration in implementing this important change to protect West Virginia coal miners and those who depend upon their success.”
Incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, the other candidate in the upcoming U.S. Senate race, was also critical of the Clean Power Plan, calling the EPA announcement a step in the right direction.
“I support it 1,000 percent,” Manchin said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
He described longstanding concerns about the Clean Power Plan. “Obama overreached,” said Manchin, D-W.Va. “Obama overreached. Obama and I fell out over this. I believe in an all-in energy policy.”
“So I agree,” Manchin continued. “I agree with where the president’s going on this, and he knows that.”
The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday described the earlier Clean Power Plan as federal overreach.
The Obama administration had introduced the Clean Power Plan in response to requirements of the Clean Air Act, the main federal air pollution law.
The new plan provides states with “candidate technologies” that can be used to establish standards of performance and incorporated into their state plans.
States would determine which of the technologies are appropriate for each plant and establish a standard of performance reflecting the degree of emission reduction from their application.
EPA will take comment on the proposal for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register and will hold a public hearing.
Legal challenges are likely, just as they were for the Clean Power Plan. There’s also the possibility that future administrations would not follow through with the latest emissions proposal.
Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition said it’s hard to trust states making appropriate decisions when it comes to emissions.
“Pollution really doesn’t recognize state boundaries, and we shouldn’t be leaving regulating carbon dioxide emissions and other power plant pollution up to a state like ours,” Stockman said.
“We’ve got a billionaire governor who owns coal mines. We’ve got a history where politicians continually put the interests of coal corporations above the health and safety of our people, be they coal miners or anyone else.”