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EPA's misguided approach must be stopped

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Paul Arbogast Paul Arbogast
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Paul Arbogast is president of the West Virginia Roundtable, an independent, non-profit and non-partisan organization composed of the state's leading chief executive officers. The Roundtable is committed to advocating public policies that create economic opportunities and wealth for all West Virginians.

Over the years, West Virginia's political leaders in both Charleston and Washington, D.C., have done an excellent job safeguarding this state's economic interests — particularly our vital energy industry, centered on coal. 

The need for that vigilance is obvious. We are the No. 2 coal-producing state in America. Directly and indirectly, coal mining accounts for tens of thousands of jobs here, with a combined payroll of over $7 billion. West Virginia is No. 9 in coal use, largely because coal provides 97 percent of our electric power generation (the nation as a whole generates 43 percent of its electricity from coal). Based on electricity costs, West Virginia ranks No. 12 nationally in energy affordability, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

Today, energy policy discussions in Washington are raising a new and grave threat to coal and West Virginia. The Environmental Protection Agency's proposed greenhouse gas New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for new fossil fuel based generating facilities would effectively end construction of new coal-fired power plants. 

The proposed regulations require all future plants using fossil fuels to meet a threshold the most modern, efficient, coal boiler — likely including the state-of-the-art facility in Morgantown — cannot even meet. If implemented, the NSPS regulation will stifle promising new technology for cleaner-burning coal and put an end to upgrades to existing plants to improve efficiency and facilitate more electricity. 

The proposed standard is unprecedented under the Clean Air Act and clearly designed to favor power generation with natural gas rather than coal. 

The bottom line of these rules, if they are allowed to stand, will be further erosion of our employment base in the mining and electrical generation industries, as well as the possibility of higher consumer electric rates and an end to new manufacturing and construction jobs.

This is not the first time that misguided EPA rules have threatened or inflicted great harm to West Virginia. Regulations put in place by EPA in recent years have been contributing factors in many existing coal-burning plants going offline. 

The need for clean air is understandable and something Americans support. But while renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power continue to show promise, their widespread practical use remains well in the future. So Washington needs to take a common sense approach and give the coal and utility industries more leeway to continue working toward a clean energy future that includes coal — America's most abundant energy resource. 

Our leaders must encourage the EPA and President Obama to create differentiated standards based on fuel type and to establish supercritical coal generation technology as the performance standard for new coal-based electricity. West Virginia's congressional delegation, as well as Gov. Tomblin, are working to this end, and we appreciate their efforts. All need our support in this important fight. 

Coal has proven its worth by being not only abundant but also reasonably priced over the long term. Price stability is particularly important right now, as our economy continues to recover.

It simply does not make sense for America to turn its back on coal, given its abundance and low cost, the huge fleet of existing power plants that already burn coal and the fact that emerging technologies will allow us to burn coal with almost no CO2 emissions, especially when low energy costs are essential to economic stability and growth, and coal has proven itself a stable energy source. 

The fact is, we can continue to use coal and continue to lower emissions at the same time. That common sense track is vital to West Virginia's economic stability and future. The EPA must be made to see the folly of shutting coal out of the market just when it is ready to play a leading role in the nation's clean energy future.