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As public hearings begin, EPA again defends greenhouse proposal

As the agency begins a week-long series of public hearings in four cities, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency insisted again on Monday that the coal industry would survive an Obama administration proposal to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan would allow states like West Virginia to tailor their own compliance plans in a way that fits with their current mix of electricity generators.

“You’ll see that the states that are heavily coal generation now will remain heavily coal generation in the future,” McCarthy said. “Every fuel supply will be able to continue to succeed in a low-carbon future under these plans.”

McCarthy made her comments during a conference call with news reporters, scheduled by EPA to promote the public hearings on the agency’s proposal to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030.

Hearings are scheduled to begin with Tuesday-Wednesday sessions in Atlanta, Denver and Washington, and continue on Thursday and Friday in Pittsburgh.

On Thursday, thousands of members of the United Mine Workers of America are expected to lead a labor rally in downtown Pittsburgh to protest the EPA rule. The union is bringing about 70 busloads of miners and their families from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Alabama for the event.

“We will be there to protest a proposed EPA policy that will be destructive to our members’ jobs, their families and their communities,” UMW President Cecil Roberts said.

Environmental and citizen groups are also sending their members and supporters from West Virginia to the Pittsburgh EPA hearing. Among them is Paula Swearingen, a volunteer with the Huntington-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

“I’m worried the rest of America won’t know that there are many people in coal-mining communities who support the EPA’s regulatory authority to protect human health, yet we see this rule as only a starting point,” Swearingen said. “We need it to go farther, faster, for the sake of our children.”

The proposal allows states to make decisions about how to reduce their emissions, and says that EPA “anticipates — and supports — states’ commitments to a wide range of policy preferences that could encompass those of states like Kentucky, West Virginia and Wyoming, seeking to continue to feature significant reliance on coal-based generation.”

For many years, coal provided half or more of the nation’s electricity. But that share has been declining in recent years in the face of fierce competition from cheap natural gas. Last year, coal provided 39 percent of the nation’s power generation, and — without the EPA carbon rule — it’s projected to drop to 32 percent by 2040, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration.

Under its proposal, the EPA projected that coal use by the power sector would decline by 30 to 32 percent by 2030. In Southern West Virginia, coal production has been dropping, and the DOE projects Central Appalachian output to decline by nearly 40 percent between 2013 and 2040.

Five years ago, when the Obama administration began a crackdown on mountaintop removal, the EPA said it would be working with an interagency effort that would “have a special focus on stimulating clean enterprise and green jobs development” in the Appalachian coalfields.

Asked during Monday’s conference call about that effort, McCarthy said the White House “has taken a lot of action,” but did not provide any specifics.

“We do know that the Clean Power Plan is going to generate significant new job opportunities across the U.S. in clean energy production, in demand reduction,” McCarthy said. “And we also know it’s going to spark some innovation moving forward in technology development. We know it because that’s what’s happened every time that EPA has put out a rule like this.”

McCarthy said, though, that officials “also know that there’s going to be some transition.” The administration has agencies working together, and a “point person” at the White House is “working with the unions, working with the local communities,” McCarthy said.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

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