WHEELING - Sen. Jay Rockefeller criticized coal industry leaders for "not embracing the realities of today" as he spoke out Wednesday in support of federal environmental rules regulating standards for mercury and clean air.
The Senate voted 46-53 Wednesday to reject an amendment that would have nullified implementation the Environmental Protection Agency's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS or Utility MACT) rule. The rule establishes new standards for mercury and hazardous air pollutants emanating from coal fired power plants, and gives the plants three years to comply.
Rockefeller, D-W.Va., voted against rejecting the rule after expressing support for the EPA standards on the Senate floor, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also voted "no." Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, voted "yes" to repeal the rule.
"I don't support this Resolution of Disapproval because it does nothing to embrace coal's potential," Rockefeller said. "It moves us backward, not forward. And unless this industry aggressively leans into the future, coal miners will lose the most.
"It's not too late for the coal industry to step up and lead by embracing the realities of today and creating a sustainable future. We need a bold partner, innovation and major public and private investments."
He added he is frustrated "with some of the top levels of the coal industry," but is not "giving up hope for real solutions for clean coal."
During a speech on the Senate floor, Rockefeller termed the nation's coal reserves as "finite," and added "many coal-fired power plants are aging."
"The cheap, easy coal seams are diminishing, and production is falling - especially in the Central Appalachian Basin in Southern West Virginia," he said. "Production is shifting to lower cost areas like the Illinois and Powder River Basins.
"The average age of our nation's 1,100-plus coal fired plants is 42.5 years, with hundreds of plants even older. These plants run less often, are less economic and the least efficient."
He continued that natural gas use is on the rise, and noted "even traditional coal companies like Consol" are increasingly investing in natural gas over coal.
"Third, the shift to a lower carbon economy is not going away, and it's a disservice to coal miners and their families to pretend that it is," Rockefeller said. "Coal company operators deny that we need to do anything to address climate change despite the established scientific consensus and mounting national desire for a cleaner, healthier environment."
Manchin, West Virginia's junior senator, delivered a speech opposing the Utility MACT Rule, and was one of only five Democrats to vote "yes" to repeal it.
"Enough is enough," Manchin said. "The people of West Virginia are tired of the EPA's overreach, and I will do everything in my power to rein in the EPA - and any agency that oversteps its authority.
"The fact is, this rule will have devastating effects on our families, jobs and economy and doesn't come close to striking a balance between the economy and the environment. Looking ahead, we need to come together across party lines to work on a solution that will truly address this problem."
Portman said the EPA "doesn't seem to understand the impact of its regulation on grid reliability and economic growth."
"Sadly, we can now say the same thing about the U.S. Senate," he added. "This regulation will cause Ohio power plants to shut down and could cause thousands of Ohioans to lose their jobs, and millions more see a big increase in their electricity rates. To get the economy moving again, Washington needs to rein in government overreach and regulations that are creating uncertainty and stifling innovation."
Brown, meanwhile, believes America can create jobs "while also protecting Ohio's children and families from mercury, arsenic, and other pollutants," said his spokeswoman, Meghan Dubyak.
"He rejects the false choice between having clean air to breathe and a job to support a family - which is why he's led the fight to ensure that efforts to reduce pollution create jobs in the U.S., rather than jeopardize them," Dubyak said. "Sen. Brown will be closely following the implementation of this court-ordered rule that is the outgrowth of legislation signed into law by President Bush more than 20 years ago. If the implementation period proves unworkable, he will explore remedies to permit additional flexibility."