President Joe Biden has wasted no time in changing the nation’s environmental agenda after taking office Wednesday, triggering blowback from the state’s congressional leaders and giving conservationists hope for greater environmental protection in years to come.
Biden recommitted the United States to the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty aimed at limiting global warming, and revoked a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline that was slated to carry oil from the Canadian province of Alberta down to Nebraska.
The new president also did something that dedicated Mountain Valley Pipeline opponent Maury Johnson, of Monroe County, is happy about — naming Richard Glick the new chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the regulatory body that reviews proposals to build interstate natural gas pipelines and regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil.
Glick has cast several minority votes to slow down Mountain Valley Pipeline development, citing incomplete permitting for the project. Now he’s chairman of the commission, which recently got two new members.
“Having met with Glick in group forums and watching him work over the last couple of years makes me confident that he will be fair and just in decision-making,” Johnson said. “He isn’t a ‘rubber stamp’ for industry.”
Also seizing on the new Biden presidency this week were 13 organizations working in coal-impacted communities, including Appalachia, that urged Biden to increase investments in energy transition programs and create a new White House Office of Coal Community Economic Transition to coordinate work across the federal government.
The new office, which the organizations called on Biden to create via executive order, would coordinate an interagency initiative to leverage new and existing funding programs across agencies like the Appalachian Regional Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency while developing a national community transition action plan informed by the recommendations of a coal community task force that includes affected communities and workers.
The organizations urging Biden to act Thursday included Appalachian Voices, the Center for Coalfield Justice, the Union of Concerned Scientists and Wayne-based Coalfield Development, which focuses on economic revitalization in Appalachia.
Coalfield Development CEO Brandon Dennison said he thinks awareness among many Appalachians has grown that they have to look beyond the coal industry for their livelihoods.
“We’re going to need federal investments, but rather than just starting some big, new, huge federal program, it needs to be a partnership with local leaders who know these communities and know the dynamics of the local economies and can really new businesses that are built to last,” Dennison said.
But Biden’s environmental action has already drawn the ire of West Virginia’s Republican congressional leaders.
“Killing the Keystone XL pipeline and rejoining the Paris Agreement will eliminate good-paying jobs,” U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said in a statement on Biden’s first day in office. “My constituents and I have not forgotten the harm brought by this approach under the Obama administration. In these next four years, it is imperative that Congress aggressively exercises oversight and pushes back on the worst impulses of Washington bureaucrats when it comes to West Virginians’ way of life.”
Rep. Alex X. Mooney, R-W.Va., criticized Biden’s moves to have the U.S. rejoin the Paris Agreement and revoke the Keystone XL pipeline permit, similarly arguing it would cost thousands of jobs and adversely affect energy-producing states like West Virginia.
“Over the last four years, states like West Virginia have helped make America energy independent and lower greenhouse gas emissions. America should continue with these commonsense policies instead of moving back to the days when the Obama-Biden Administration was waging war on coal and natural gas,” Mooney said in a statement.
Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., who was selected to serve as ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, said in a statement Thursday the subcommittee would be “the tip of the spear in fighting the Biden Administration and Democrat Majority’s extreme climate change policies” and called Biden’s plan to phase fossil fuels out of America’s power sector by 2035 “not feasible.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit’s strike-down of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Affordable Clean Energy rule that the Trump administration had designed to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan on Trump’s last full day in office has opened the door for Biden to draft a less industry-friendly replacement.
Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., praised the Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy rule at a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection hearing for a Longview Power application for certification under the state’s implementation of the rule and a section of the Clean Air Act in October, and said Friday that the court’s ruling to toss out the rule is “disastrous for West Virginia and our nation’s energy independence.”
“West Virginia has a long, proud history of coal mining and we must ensure it is part of our future to keep hard-working Americans employed,” Miller said. “American energy independence and energy dominance helps fortify our national security and that of our allies.”