Yesterday I witnessed an award-winning political stunt attacking the EPA in defense of Big Coal. Representatives Griffith (VA), Roe (TN), and Whitfield (KY) led a field hearing in Abingdon, VA part of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power series meant to investigate the EPA’s new greenhouse gas emission standards. The congressmen stated that Abingdon was chosen for the hearing since coalfields residents are the ones who will ultimately suffer from the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas New Source Performance Standards (NSPS).
It seems our representatives had forgotten about the thousands of Americans who suffer from asthma attacks triggered by smog worsened from coal plant emissions. Or perhaps they haven’t read the news about record high temperatures leading to larger wildfires and more extreme droughts in the US. For years we have known climate change is real and now taking effect. That’s why 72% of polled Americans support carbon limits (ALA). That’s why the Supreme Court upheld the EPA’s right to regulate carbon under the Clean Air Act in 2007 and requested a progressive plan be set forth. And that’s what the EPA is doing.
Morgan Griffith said he was happy to see “that the people of Southwest Virginia have this opportunity to add their voices to the conversation about the Obama Administration’s energy policies,” but, I’m sure he wasn’t pleased to see over 50 citizens holding signs in support of EPA’s carbon limits. We sent a clear message that Appalachia would benefit much more from hearings focused on renewable energy jobs, overall regional economic diversification, and leadership to reduce carbon pollution linked to climate change and smog. I guess that’s too progressive for Mr. Griffith and the coal companies that fund him.
There wasn’t a single dissenting opinion allowed at the hearing. Thomas Farrell, President of Dominion, testified that if the current carbon limits were enacted 5 years ago, the new Virginia City plant wouldn’t be operating. He and Mr. Voyles (VP LG&E and KU Energy) stated several times that the NSPS could only be met by combined cycle natural gas plants or carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) coal plants. In other words the EPA is killing coal. Mr. Farrell failed to mention Dominion’s plans to equip the Virginia City coal plant with CCS. Essentially, Dominion is only comfortable setting it’s own carbon limits despite the fact that this approach is fundamentally flawed. That’s because without a nationwide carbon standard, the economic investments from lower emitting plants are cancelled out by pollution from higher emitting plants.
The fear-mongering tactic is another cause for concern. For example, Rep. Roe invited Donna Kessinger to testify on why miners must fight the EPA’s “War on Coal.” Ms. Kessinger is a union, underground miner and single mother from southwest Virginia. Her testimony focused on why coal jobs are needed to support small communities and put food on the table for families like hers. Unfortunately, politicians blame the EPA for coal mine layoffs, leading hard-working miners like Donna to believe that federal regulations are targeting their livelihoods. However, MSHA data shows that coal jobs are at a 14-year high and the recent layoffs are due to low natural gas prices. The market determines industry success, not an agency chartered with protecting America’s air, water, land, and public health.
I can agree that miners cannot be forgotten when regulating coal fired power plants; I cannot agree with the negative mentality that attacking the EPA will solve Appalachia’s economic woes. Protecting miners jobs includes ending mountaintop removal – a process that employs less workers to extract the same amount of coal. Protecting miners’ jobs includes laying out a plan for a shifting energy market that will move away from less abundant coal and to more sustainable resources. It’s time for politicians to step aside and make way for leaders able to chart a resilient and diverse economy in Appalachia.