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W.Va. officials file comments asking EPA to back off

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State leaders responded Monday to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon emission regulations, saying the rules will harm consumers and industry in West Virginia.

Monday marked the last day the EPA took public comments on the proposed regulations which seek to dramatically reduce carbon emissions over the next several years.

Though the rules have yet to go into effect, officials have warned they already have had a chilling effect on the state’s energy industry.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and representatives of AEP and the West Virginia Coal Association held a press conference Monday afternoon in Charleston to announce he and state energy leaders had filed comments urging the federal government to back off from the proposed regulations.

Officials contend the rules are illegal as they double-regulate an industry already governed by the federal Clean Air Act.

“This proposed rule would have devastating impacts on the economy of our state and our nation,” Tomblin said. “Across West Virginia, we are already seeing real impacts of the current regulatory environment in which industry must operate, and we remain concerned that this irresponsible mandate will cause significant negative effects for West Virginians and our nation’s power grid.”

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey also announced Monday that West Virginia led a bipartisan group of 12 states in a major court brief that presents its case as to why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should declare illegal a settlement agreement in which EPA promised to issue its now-pending rule concerning existing coal-fired power plants.

The case is before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. A ruling that the EPA made an unlawful commitment could force the agency to abandon the pending rule, Morrisey said.

“This filing represents a major, critical step in our office’s efforts to protect West Virginia’s coal jobs and its economy,” Morrisey said. “We will not allow the Obama Administration’s overreach to affect the thousands of people who depend on this state’s coal industry to provide for their families, or affect the hardworking residents who will be subjected to higher energy costs should this flawed rule go forward.”

Gene Trisko, an attorney who represents labor and industry clients in energy and environmental matters and who helped with the reauthorization of the Clean Air Act in 1990, said the nation’s power grid will be unable to meet demand if coal-fired power plants continue to close as a result of EPA regulations.

In a recent interview with The Parkersburg News and Sentinel, Trisko warned the EPA’s proposed regulations would have an adverse effect on the energy industry and West Virginia in particular, as well as jeopardizing the nation’s energy grid.

Trisko said as coal-powered plants close because they cannot operate under the regulatory climate, there will not be enough new plants opening to continue supplying power to consumers.

“You are dropping about 12 percent of the national generation capacity,” he said, “and that is what gives concern to the reliability of the grid.”

Trisko said a 2013 national power grid reliability report predicted electricity shortfalls spreading throughout the country by 2023, and “that analysis was done before the EPA clean power plan was proposed.”

Trisko said much the EPA’s plan is based on projected energy savings due to energy efficiency, but those estimates he said are too

“I don’t think that energy efficiency programs are going to be effective on a widespread basis, not to the extent the EPA is expecting,” he said. “Many consumers simply cannot afford the investments with long payback periods we see with energy efficiency improvements.”

In 2013, Trisko testified before Congress concerning rising energy costs for families, citing a report which said the cost was rapidly outpacing residents’ incomes.

The West Virginia Coal Association last week cited an industry-funded study, “Energy Market Impacts of Recent Federal Regulations on the Electric Power Sector,” which showed the EPA-regulated changes will dramatically increase consumer costs in the next six years.

Overall, the study projects a $177 billion increase in electricity costs and a $107 billion increase in natural gas costs in 2020 compared with 2012 when the cumulative effects of EPA regulations and energy market impacts are analyzed.

“These costs are simply not bearable by West Virginia families and businesses, that have already seen the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and literally hundreds of millions of dollars to the state’s economy,” said Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said last week in a press release. “We have warned about this ‘perfect storm’ for the past six years. Now the storm is no longer out there over the horizon. It is hitting us now. And it isn’t just hitting us. This storm will impact the entire country and the result will be more more lasting and more catastrophic than any hurricane.”

The West Virginia Coal Association is based in Charleston and represents about 95 percent of the state’s coal production.

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