Altering Clean Power Plan may not reverse coal trend
Coal industry groups and various West Virginia government officials have hailed the Trump Administration’s plan to repeal former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan – a move they laud as ending a job-killing initiative and instead providing more security for the coal market.
Whether that means a revival of coal-fired power plants, however, remains a pertinent question, particularly since many utilities in recent years have converted to other forms of fuel for their power plants, including natural gas, and may have no plans to rely more on coal for generating power.
“This is great news for our state and the coal industry,” said West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who recently switched party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, of the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to scuttle the Clean Power Plan. “Coal has been steadily recovering, we’ve seen an upturn in severance taxes and this decision will clearly help put our coal miners back to work. President Trump promised me he was going to take care of our miners and he is doing just that. We are pleased that the director of the EPA is taking these steps to repeal the current rule.”
However, a spokesperson for Appalachia Power said rolling back the Clean Power Plan will have no effect on coal’s future with that company. The company has no plans to build new coal-fired electric plants, although it will continue to use the ones it has in West Virginia for a couple of more decades.
And one study recently put out by a group of scientists that advocates for combating climate change says more and more coal-fired plants across the country will be shutting down, regardless of whether the Clean Power Plan stays or goes.
Obama’s Clean Power Plan was designed to cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The rule dictated specific emission targets for states based on power-plant emissions and gave officials broad latitude to decide how to achieve reductions.
The Supreme Court put the plan on hold last year following a legal challenge by industry and coal-friendly states, including West Virginia.
The Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency declared the Obama-era rule exceeded federal law by setting emissions standards that power plants could not reasonably meet.
State reaction positive
The EPA’s new stance was echoed by state officials last week as they reacted to news of the EPA’s plan to scrap the Clean Power Plan.
“I am pleased that the EPA, Administrator Pruitt and President Trump are pursuing an all-of-the-above energy policy that acknowledges and respects the role coal will play in our energy portfolio,” Manchin said. “For eight years, the misguided Obama-era policies attacked coal and our hard-working coal miners,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. “West Virginia and the United States should lead the global clean-energy economy and with an administration working as a partner, instead of an opponent, we are poised to do just that.”
U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV, said the Obama administration issued heavy-handed regulations to pick winners and losers among energy industries. “In West Virginia, our coal miners, their families and entire communities felt the blow of that misguided approach to energy production,” she said.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he believed the Clean Power Plan was blatant and unlawful federal overreach.
The West Virginia Coal Association also applauded the EPA’s announcement.
“This administration continues to live up to the promises it made to the people in our coalfields,” West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney said. “We have been saying for years that the Clean Power Plan was a totally unworkable concept that would cause nothing but devastation for West Virginia’s economy while it forcibly reshaped the country’s electrical grid.”
Raney said West Virginia’s coal industry is continuing to enjoy a more robust market than it did just a year ago at this time, and repealing the plan will provide even more market security for the coal industry. “All we ever have asked for is a level playing field, and repealing the Clean Power Plan goes a long way toward achieving that goal,” Raney said.
Utilities’ plans may not change
While eliminating the Clean Power Plan may slow the shuttering of coal-fired power plants, many say that action won’t reverse the trend.
An official with American Electric Power’s subsidiary in West Virginia said it has no plans to build new coal-fired electric plants in the Mountain State.
Jeri Matheney, spokeswoman for AEP, said easing restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants by rolling back rules and regulations of the Clean Power Plan will not have any effect on coal’s future with the company.
“Coal is still very important and will continue to provide the bulk of the company’s power until at least the year 2040,” Matheney said. “At the same time, we are exploring and expanding use of other fuels, including natural gas, hydro and wind, as well as investing and promoting energy efficiency measures.”
Matheney said the company will continue using its three coal-fired plants in West Virginia, which are the Amos, Mountaineer and Mitchell, for a long time.
“Our focus remains the same, which is to provide safe, affordable electricity and to also be environmentally responsible,” she said.