May 18, 2023 - West Virginia officials and organizations are denouncing new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pollution standards for fossil fuel-fired power plants.
The EPA’s new proposed rules, which require coal and natural gas-fired electrical generation facilities to capture or dramatically reduce carbon emissions in the years ahead, were released Thursday.
“By proposing new standards for fossil fuel-fired power plants, EPA is delivering on its mission to reduce harmful pollution that threatens people’s health and wellbeing,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.
The rules would result in the closing of West Virginia’s remaining coal power plants, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said during a press conference Thursday.
“The president’s EPA announced earlier today new regulations that will cause essentially all of our coal-fired power plants — which generate 90% of our electricity in our state — to close by 2032,” she said.
There will be “enormous legal challenges” to the EPA proposed rules, Capito said.
Gov. Jim Justice, during his administration briefing Thursday, said he planned to “urge” State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to lead a legal challenge against the rules.
“Without any question, I will absolutely urge our attorney general — Patrick will do a good job with regard to this,” he said. “I will urge anybody and everybody to challenge through our court system or whatever it may be to absolutely see that this doesn’t come to pass.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaking ahead of the release of the rules on Wednesday, called the rules “crazy — totally insane.”
“Why can’t this administration understand no means no? You’ve got to have it reliable,” he said. “Coal is basically dispatchable — it runs 24/7, OK? We have renewables. I’m for everything — I’m just not for taking off what I’ve got to have because you want something you want to have, but it doesn’t do that job.”
Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., released a statement saying the rules are “insulting to hard working West Virginians.”
“This overbearing EPA rule will kill domestic energy production and force jobs overseas, giving more power to our adversaries,” she said. “Energy security is national security, and I will do everything in my power to stop the Green New Deal from infiltrating the pro-American energy policies House Republicans are fighting for.”
The rules are “specifically designed to shut down West Virginia’s nine coal-fired power plants and many more across this nation,” said West Virginia Coal Association President and CEO Chris Hamilton.
“What EPA is doing is economic suicide,” Hamilton said. “West Virginians will lose jobs. Americans will continue to pay increasingly more expensive power bills. Our nation’s electric system will become even more unreliable. And energy security in the United States will become more dependent on foreign countries and potentially foreign adversaries.”
West Virginia was the nation’s No. 2 overall producer of coal in 2021, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, with 78,501 thousand short tons mined. Wyoming, nation’s leading producer of coal, mined 238,773 thousand short tons of coal in 2021.
According to the EIA’s historical data, which shows state energy production estimates from 1960 to 2020, West Virginia produced 118,944 thousand short tons of coal in 1960.
Production levels remained above 100,000 thousand short tons per year throughout the beginning 1970s, before falling to 95,433 thousand short tons in 1977 and 85,314 thousand short tons in 1978.
The state’s coal production peaked in the 1990s — 173,734 thousand short tons were produced in 1997 and 171,145 thousand short tons were produced in 1998.
While 2008 saw 157,805 thousand short tons mined, production began to decline, with 95,633 thousand short tons produced in 2015 and 67,380 thousand short tons produced in 2020.
While West Virginia’s overall coal production has continued to decline, the majority of the state’s electricity still comes from coal, according to the EIA.
Coal-fired power plants accounted for 91% of West Virginia’s total electricity net generation in 2021. Renewable energy resources — primarily hydroelectric power and wind energy — contributed 5% and natural gas provided more than 4%.
This was an increase over the previous year. In 2020, coal-fired power plants accounted for 88% of West Virginia’s electricity.
EPA will take comment on the proposed rules for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
EPA will also hold a virtual public hearing and will make additional information available on the website. Registration for the public hearing will open after the proposal is published in the Federal Register.
The agency will also host virtual trainings to provide communities and Tribes with information about the proposal and about participating in the public comment process. Those trainings will be June 6 and 7. Registration information is available on EPA’s website.