DEP and coal group fire back at U.S. EPA

WHEELING – Count the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection among those making strong objections to new federal regulations opponents say will make it impossible to build new coal-fired power plants in the future.

The DEP and the West Virginia Coal Association both submitted written comments to the federal Environmental Protection Agency concerning the new rules Friday, the last day the agency was accepting comments on the standards. Opponents of the rules, including the coal association and legislators such as Rep. David McKinley, R-Wheeling, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., argue the standards can’t be met using existing technology and effectively bar the construction of additional generating units that burn coal.

“The nation cannot afford another policy blunder. … A nation with an energy delivery and electrical system that is the envy of the world deserves better from its government,” the coal association’s letter states.

Fred Durham, acting director of the DEP’s Division of Air Quality, said his agency is concerned that the EPA is moving forward with the new rules despite its own projection the rule will have a small impact on carbon dioxide emissions over the next eight years.

And Jeff Herholdt, director of the West Virginia Department of Commerce’s Division of Energy, estimates the new rules will increase the average cost of electricity in West Virginia from 9 cents-per-kilowatt-hour to 15 cents.

“It has no quantifiable benefit, and we think that flies in the face of the Clean Air Act. … If that rule goes final, there could be some potential surging electrical costs,” Durham said. “Certainly that is a big problem and one that our governor is certainly concerned about.”

West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney said the EPA is pushing forward with the new regulations despite failing to consider feasibility and cost in developing the rules, things he said the agency is required to do according to prior legal interpretations of the Clean Air Act.

The EPA is poised to issue tighter standards for existing power plants next month, and Raney now fears it will take action by the courts to prevent the rule from taking effect and having a devastating effect on his industry.

“Anything that got in the way of where they were going with this … (the EPA) just kind of disregarded and said they really don’t have to explain it … It’s just a very helpless feeling here, and its affecting our people here,” Raney said. “They’re getting laid off. … People who don’t think there’s a war on coal brought by this administration – and it’s a war on Appalachia – they really need to sit down and look at the list of things, and this is the most recent and graphic of those.”

Jeff Herholdt, director of the West Virginia Department of Commerce’s Division of Energy, said other federal regulations have already forced the closure of three coal-fired power plants, with three more – including American Electric Power’s Kammer Plant – soon to follow. Those plants represent about 14 percent of West Virginia’s total generating capacity.

On a larger scale, he said, EPA regulations are expected to result in the elimination of 21,000 megawatt-hours of generating capacity throughout the 13-state service area of PJM Interconnection, which coordinates the electric grid in the region that includes West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. He expects only 8,000 megawatt-hours of capacity – 7,000 from natural gas and another 1,000 from renewable energy – to replace it.

That could have a major effect on the reliability of the area’s power grid, Herholdt said.

“It’s fine to have wind and solar but there’s no way it can dependably and reliably provide you electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Raney added. “And it’s expensive. Without federal subsidies, you couldn’t afford your electric bill.”