Senate President Bill Cole, House Speaker Tim Armstead and Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association and co-chairman of the Coal Forum, met with several members of the Legislature and the media at the State Capitol May 18 to present a unified message to members of Congress: Pass the ARENA Act now.
The ARENA Act – the “Affordable, Reliable Energy Now” Act – is a new bill offered by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. Capito announced the legislation on May 13, calling it the principal legislative vehicle in the Senate to roll back President Obama’s “Clean Power Plan.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pursuing changes to the Clean Air Act that would require electric power utilities to scale back coal-fired power to comply with new air emissions standards. EPA’s “Clean Power Plan” will have a particularly negative impact on Appalachian coal states, many of which have sued the agency in federal courts under a lawsuit led by the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office. .
Capito’s bill would prevent EPA from setting technology-based standards for power plants unless that technology has been proven to work at several locations and is commercially viable. ARENA also would extend EPA’s rule-compliance dates pending final judicial review and require the agency to issue state-specific plans for how states could meet the proposed air emissions reductions.
The ARENA Act also seeks to protect consumers from skyrocketing electric power rates because it would allow any governor to refuse to comply with a new air emissions regulatory program if it would have a negative impact on economic growth and ratepayers and threaten reliability of the electricity grid. The bill also will prevent EPA from withholding federal highway funds from any states for noncompliance with the Clean Power Plan.
“Last week, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito introduced this bill to be a powerful legislative weapon in the fight against President Obama’s War on Coal,” President Cole said. “Nobody is against clean air, but the extent that President Obama and his EPA want to go will cause devastating harm to our coal industry and thousands of West Virginia families. The proposed emission reduction standards for power plants are unprecedented, complicated, and expensive. I speak for my fellow legislators today in thanking Senator Capito for introducing the bill and also Senator (Joe) Manchin for co-sponsoring it. We stand ready to assist you both at the state level.”
Speaker Armstead echoed Cole’s support and said the Obama Administration’s disdain for coal-fired electricity has pummeled Appalachian economies.
“The Obama Administration is … imposing unreasonable and oppressive regulations that say to our hardworking West Virginians that the White House doesn’t care if it puts our West Virginians out of work, it doesn’t care if we become more reliant on foreign energy,” Armstead said. “In fact, this White House has said once again, loudly and clearly, that it doesn’t care about West Virginia.”
Under the Obama Administration, Hamilton said, West Virginia coal production has dropped 31 percent and the industry has lost a fifth of its jobs. Coal-fired power plant closures and projected power rate increases caused by the Clean Power Plan only exacerbate the impact on West Virginia’s jobs and economy.
“Amidst all this pain and suffering for our state and for all West Virginians, an important question is being ignored: Will the President’s and EPA’s plan have a significant impact on global climate emissions and therefore climate change? The short answer is no,” Hamilton said. “Proving that only requires a little bit of math. The President’s plan purports to reduce global emissions by less than 1 percent as global use of coal and coal-fired electricity grow around the world.”
Hamilton thanked Cole and Armstead for providing such strong legislative leadership and offering their public support of the coal industry.
“Since they have taken office this year, they have moved forward decisively and responsibly to do everything they can on the state level to support our industry,” Hamilton said.
Cole closed the press conference by reminding West Virginians that their leaders respect the role coal has played in history and the role it has in the state’s future.
“There is absolutely no doubt that our state has been built on coal. There also is no doubt that West Virginia’s coal built America,” Cole said. “Our coal miners are proud of their jobs, proud of their heritages, and proud of their communities. We must help them find a brighter future. We have such a vibrant, strong history in our coal mining industry, and I for one, do not believe that story is over. West Virginia’s history and West Virginia’s fate should not and cannot be decided by an executive order or by a group of non-elected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Coal is simply the first fossil fuel in the gun sights of our president and his EPA. Natural gas will be next. We need to draw a line in the sand right here and right now.”
Photo courtesy of The State Journal