EPA chief, industry toe to toe over predicted job losses, fuel switch

Source: Manuel Quiñones, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Coal production and mine employment would decline under the Obama administration’s rule proposal for controlling greenhouse gases from existing power plants, according to U.S. EPA’s analysis.

The regulatory impact analysis that accompanies the landmark proposal released today outlines scenarios where coal would take a hit at the expense of natural gas and other energy sources.”The EPA projects coal production for use by the power sector, a large component of total coal production, will decline by roughly 25 to 27 percent in 2020 from base case levels,” said the analysis. “The use of coal by the power sector will decrease by roughly 30 to 32 percent in 2030.”

Under one EPA-proposed option for reducing greenhouse gases, there would be a loss of more than 14,000 mining jobs between 2017 and 2020. Natural gas-extraction jobs would increase by about 5,000 during the same time.

EPA says Western coal fields would be the most affected. Methane releases from mines would also likely decline under the proposal.

“This analysis found that the net upstream methane emissions from natural gas systems and coal mines and CO2 emissions from flaring of methane will likely decrease under the proposed guidelines,” EPA said.

Stocks for coal companies, which have been awash in red ink in recent years, fell this morning as EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy made the announcement.

Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said in a conference call about the rule, “They’re going to absolutely render harm throughout the coal fields of West Virginia.”

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who is running for Senate, expressed concern for miners who have lost their jobs or seen their hours cut.

“They’re living and feeling it right now and they understand what’s going on, and they feel very upset, frustrated,” Capito said in the same conference call.

Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said his state had lost more than 7,000 direct mining jobs since the beginning of 2012.

The losses have been largely because of competition from cheap natural gas and other coal mining basins within the United States. Obama administration regulations have also had an impact.

“And these losses are occurring in a region where coal is the main economic driver,” said Bissett, referring to the eastern part of the state. “So it devastates that region, and the losses have been felt statewide.”

Bissett spoke of a drop in severance taxes and other blows from the drop in coal production. “The concern for states that mine coal and use coal for electricity,” he said, “is that the impact will be well beyond the coal industry and impact every livelihood within those states negatively.”

National Mining Association CEO Hal Quinn echoed the sentiment, similarly framing the rule’s effects as being well beyond coal mining. “EPA’s previous power plant rules have pushed our nation’s electric grid close to the edge of breaking, as we saw this past winter, and this new rule could finally break it,” Quinn said. “This is a major gamble that America cannot afford to make.”

McCarthy slams critics

Coal field environmental advocates cheered the rule, not only because of its promise to clamp down on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants but also for its potential to negatively affect coal mining.

“Appalachia has traditionally borne the brunt of the damage from the nation’s coal-dependent economy and is suffering the health impacts and environmental and economic devastation of mountaintop-removal coal mining and related industrial practices,” said Appalachian Voices chief Tom Cormons. “Our region, in particular, stands to benefit tremendously from a shift to cleaner energy sources.”

During her speech at EPA headquarters this morning, McCarthy took direct aim at the agency’s critics, including those in coal and mining.

“They’re wrong,” she said.

McCarthy said she was “tired” of the coal industry touting the so-called polar vortex as evidence of the peril of her agency’s rulemaking.

“It’s exactly the opposite. It is a wake-up call,” she said, seeing such weather events as evidence of climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This plan is all about flexibility,” said McCarthy, repeating the administration’s stated goal of promoting an all-of-the-above energy strategy. “This plan does not change that.”

Because EPA’s analysis counts for the economic benefits of transitioning to cleaner power sources, McCarthy said the proposed rule would create “more jobs, not less.” She said electricity would remain “affordable and reliable.”

But Capito shot back, saying Congress and not the administration should address climate issues. She said EPA’s proposal is “just cap and trade under a different name.”

Capito and Raney vowed to be tough in protecting coal when the state develops its compliance plan under the rule. “West Virginia would be a big loser here because of the mix we have,” she said.

And like with past proposals, pro-coal lawmakers and coal advocates are chastising the agency for not setting up more public comment meetings in mining states.

‘War on coal rages on’

Today’s announcement will no doubt intensify campaigning by Republicans against the so-called war on coal and their aim to paint coal-country Democrats as being against the fuel.

Today, the Republican National Committee sent out an email titled “The War On Coal Rages On.” And over the weekend, Kentucky Republicans called on Kentucky’s secretary of state, Alison Lundergan Grimes, to return donations from Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Alison Lundergan Grimes may call herself a pro-coal candidate,” state GOP spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper, “but those words mean nothing when her campaign is being funded by the group responsible for crafting the job-killing EPA regulations.”

Grimes, the Democrat running against Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, this morning said in a statement, “President Obama’s new EPA rule is more proof that Washington isn’t working for Kentucky,” and vowed to fight it if elected.

West Virginia Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall, anticipating GOP attacks today, including efforts to tie him to cap-and-trade legislation, released a statement last week condemning the proposal.

“I will oppose this rule as it will adversely affect coal miners and coal mining communities throughout West Virginia and the nation,” he said.

Pro-coal lawmakers, including Rahall and McConnell, have announced their intention to introduce legislation to block the rules. Obama has signaled his willingness to veto such measures.