The chief of the Environmental Protection Agency got an earful Tuesday from a senior Kentucky lawmaker who blames EPA regulations for costing coal jobs in his district.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy came to Capitol Hill to testify about her agency’s 2017 budget request, which includes $50 million to implement regulations that could lead to a further reduction in the use of coal to produce electricity.
Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, reminded McCarthy that the U.S. Supreme Court had put the brakes on the Clean Power Plan until the lawsuits against it are resolved.
“Nevertheless,” Rogers said, “here you are asking for more taxpayer money to put toward this job of killing coal.”
McCarthy told the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies that the Obama administration’s plan was reasonable, cost-effective and legally sound. And, she added, it was not designed to eliminate coal from the mix.
“We are not looking to preclude coal from being a significant part of the energy system,” she testified. “Indeed, we project it will continue to be.”
Still, McCarthy acknowledged that Appalachian coal has become less competitive as utilities look to cheaper sources of coal, natural gas or renewable energy sources.
Rogers said that his Eastern Kentucky district has lost 10,000 coal jobs since 2009.
According to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, there were an estimated 15,668 coal jobs in the region in the first quarter of 2009. By the fourth quarter of 2015, the agency estimated that number at 5,077.
Some Eastern Kentucky counties have unemployment rates as high as 21 percent.
“Devastating,” Rogers said.
The Clean Power Plan would require a one-third reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. Kentucky was among 30 states that took the EPA to court to block the plan.
McCarthy said that 25 other states had asked the agency for help meeting the plan’s requirements in spite of the Supreme Court’s ruling last month that put it on hold.
She noted that the utility sector was already making the transition away from coal to natural gas and renewables.
“We do believe facilities can comply,” she said. “We think that states will be able to meet the requirements.”
Kentucky is a heavy producer and consumer of coal, which generates 90 percent of the state’s electricity.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Kentucky power companies retired 10 percent of the state’s coal generating capacity last year, in some cases switching to natural gas. The agency forecast a similar reduction in the state’s coal capacity through the end of next year.
Despite being the nation’s third-leading coal producer, 39 percent of the coal Kentucky consumed last year came from other states.
Last year, the federal government predicted that the Clean Power Plan would accelerate the growth of renewable energy and the decline of coal.
“There’s no question that the Clean Power Plan will fundamentally alter the energy economy in this country,” Rogers said.
- On March 23, 2016