The Environmental Protection Agency is finally coming to West Virginia.
On Tuesday, the agency will perform a valuable public service in Charleston by hosting a two-day public hearing on its proposal to repeal the controversial Clean Power Plan. We have always referred to this regulation as the “Costly Power Plan,” because the American public would never be able to afford reliable, dependable coal-based electricity if this Obama-era rule ever went into effect.
It’s significant that a new administration’s EPA is coming here. The previous administration would never come to West Virginia and rejected our congressional delegation’s request to hold a hearing in coal country.
The Clean Power Plan was intended to commandeer every state’s electricity grid under the suspicious auspices of addressing climate change. The EPA assigned each state, including West Virginia, a target for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide — for which reasonably available technology did not exist.
Had the plan gone into effect, more coal-fired power plants would have been closed — another jarring blow after the agency’s Mercury and Air Toxic Standards rules had already shut down scores of power plants.
The U.S. Department of Energy has found that repealing the Clean Power Plan would likely save 240 million tons of annual coal production, which means about 27,000 coal mining jobs, plus another 99,000 related jobs in the supply chain.
Since West Virginia is the second leading coal producing state in the nation, this repeal is very significant.
Aside from its huge costs, the rule’s benefits were insignificant. By some estimates, the plan would have added $214 billion to the cost of the nation’s wholesale electricity by 2030. That doesn’t count the manufacturing jobs also at risk, or the $64 billion needed to replace lost power plant capacity. And it doesn’t consider the risks posed by a less diverse, less reliable electric grid.
Add all this up, and you begin to understand the real cost of regulating reductions in coal-fired electricity generation, and why the new EPA has good reason for taking a fresh look at the old Clean Power Plan.
While it claimed to address global warming, the CPP would have had no meaningful impact on global greenhouse gas concentrations. The carbon dioxide reductions were so insignificant that the agency didn’t bother to quantify them. It was simply another symbolic gesture from Washington that would have brought actual devastation to our coal communities.
These were among the reasons our associations requested that the Supreme Court stay the CPP until lower courts sorted through its many serious problems.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and 28 states made a similar request — hoping to protect against this unprecedented federal intrusion on states’ authority over their power supplies and energy policies.
The Supreme Court agreed. It stayed the rule, and now the Trump administration can consider a different approach. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has wisely proposed a repeal of the plan.
This week, he is asking West Virginians whether they agree, and if so, how to replace it. Whatever he decides, his decision will be better for having heard from the people who would be most affected.
Meanwhile, the Clean Power Plan can provide a teachable moment by showing the need for a more effective response than heavy-handed regulations.
Sometimes less is more. Reforming the New Source Review permit program is one example. Revising this regulation to remove the current disincentives that utilities face when upgrading the efficiency of their power plants would be a win-win. Updated coal plants can produce more electricity with lower emissions.
These advanced coal technologies can pay impressive economic and environmental dividends as well. Modern coal plants with advanced high-efficiency, low-emission technologies can supply reliable power to the grid while providing high-wage jobs for coal communities and revenue for states.
Earlier this month, the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook projected that most new coal plants around the world will be using these technologies within the next 25 years.
The end of the old Clean Power Plan can be the beginning of something better. Hopefully these hearings will help show the way. Thankfully, the EPA will finally listen to the wonderful people in our coal fields.