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Editorial: EPA rules threaten coal economy, again

Mar. 28, 2012 @ 10:15 PM

Higher electrical costs, a shaky national power supply and fewer jobs do not translate into much of a campaign promise.

But that is what the Obama administration is offering our region this week.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday announced environmental rules that could eventually eliminate new coal-fired power plants. The standards would basically require that new plants be built so that they can capture and store half of their carbon pollution.

Although the requirements would not take effect for years, industry representatives say it would affect about 15 new plants that are on the drawing board right now. Construction that begins next year would be exempt, but plants that break ground later would eventually have to meet the new rules, The Associated Press reported.

Some might be able to move more quickly, but others would likely be scratched.

From the view of some environmentalists, that's the idea.

"It means there will never be another coal plant built without new technology," Michael Brune of the Sierra Club told the AP. "And it probably means even those won't be built because they can't compete."

That paints a very bleak future for states such as West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky, where the coal industry is a critical part of the economy. But it also creates big concerns for every American.

Coal-fired power plants provide 45 percent of the power that the nation consumes, and it is one of the least expensive sources of electricity. So, as the nation eliminates these power plants, electricity costs will go up. But even more importantly, there is no clear answer about how the nation's power demands will be met.

The EPA's approach "relies totally on cheap natural gas, and we've seen that bubble burst before," West Virginia's U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said in response to Tuesday's announcement. "It might sound good now, but what happens if those prices go up? Your average hardworking families and manufacturers will be left holding the bag of uncertainty -- either in the prices they pay or in the reliability of our electrical system."

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin also joined the chorus of opposition, stressing the devastating effects the rules would have on the West Virginia economy. U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall contends that the EPA has "utterly failed" to balance energy development and environmental preservation.

And those are the Democrats. Republican Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley were equally adamant that the EPA is misguided and overstepping its authority.

Congress needs to rein in this agency.

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