West Virginia political leaders mostly joined forces Monday to voice strong opposition to the Obama administration’s plan to curb global warming, vowing to fight the proposal in the court of public opinion and the court of law.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin hosted a news conference at the state Capitol to bring together business and labor leaders and Democratic and Republican elected officials to blast what they called another step in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to destroy the state’s coal industry.
Tomblin acknowledged that state Department of Environmental Protection officials are still reviewing the 645-page rule. But, the governor said, state officials don’t care one bit for what they see so far.
“These proposals appear to realize some of our worst fears,” Tomblin told a room full of reporters and coal supporters. “The only way to comply with these rules would be to use less West Virginia coal.”
Tomblin was joined at his news conference by Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and officials from the United Mine Workers union, the West Virginia Coal Association and American Electric Power’s Appalachian Power subsidiary.
Rahall called the EPA proposal a “job killer” from an agency that is “run amok.” Capito accused the EPA of trying to impose through rule “an energy tax that the president couldn’t get through Congress.” Morrisey promised to review “every line of every paragraph of every page” of the rule, looking for ways to defeat the EPA proposal in court.
The only major state elected official who offered anything other than strong opposition to the EPA was retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller. The West Virginia Democrat did not attend the governor’s news conference but later issued a prepared statement offering support for the EPA proposal.
“I understand the fears that these rules will eliminate jobs, hurt our communities, and drive up costs for working families,” Rockefeller said. “However, rather than let fear alone drive our response, we should make this an opportunity to build a stronger future for ourselves.
“West Virginians have never walked away from a challenge, and I know together we can create a future that protects our health, creates jobs, and maintains coal as a core part of our energy supply,” Rockefeller said. “The threat that climate change and unhealthy air pose to all of our futures cannot be understated. And, the costs of inaction are far greater than the costs of action.”
News releases opposing the rule also came from both candidates for the 2nd District House seat Capito is vacating in her bid for Rockefeller’s Senate post, Democrat Nick Casey and Republican Alex Mooney. Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who is running for the Senate against Capito, attended the governor’s news conference but did not take part.
Tennant issued a statement critical of the EPA proposal, but a campaign spokeswoman, Jennifer Donohue, later said that Tennant did not have a specific emissions reductions target of her own. Donohue said Tennant “rejects the president’s overall approach of mandated regulations to reach a specific target,” in favor of tax credits, loan guarantees and grants for “affordable advanced coal technology.”
Capito, asked during a news conference call, also could not specify a carbon dioxide emissions reductions target she believes is needed or acceptable.
“We’ll look at it in terms of emission cuts, but I can’t say specifically ‘Is that enough, not enough, what effect.’ It’s so new, I don’t even know how many pages it is,” Capito told reporters.
Speaking after the governor’s news conference, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman said his agency’s staff are still reading the EPA proposal and the massive amount of information released with it and trying to understand its full effects.
“This is going to require a significant reduction in coal,” Huffman said. “We don’t have the numbers yet. It’s a pretty complicated calculation.”
Power company officials weren’t as aggressive as political leaders in voicing opposition to the EPA proposal.
During the governor’s news conference, Appalachian Power President Charles Patton noted that his company and its parent, AEP, already has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 21 percent since 2005. He said the EPA rule is “very comprehensive” and “we’re still just trying to get our arms around it.”
Melissa McHenry, a media spokeswoman for AEP, said it’s really too early to predict the full impact of the EPA proposal, but that the earlier baseline year of 2005 was helpful to the industry, given the emissions cuts that have already been made since that year.
Stephanie Walton, a spokeswoman for FirstEnergy, said her company expects to achieve a carbon dioxide emissions reduction of 25 percent between 2005 and 2015. “This puts the company on target to meet the Obama administration’s goal of a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, if credit is given for plants retired since 2005,” Walton said.
Obama has given the EPA until June 2015 to finalize the rule, and states will have at least a year to submit compliance plans. States also will be able to obtain extensions of one to two years, depending on their circumstances.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1702.