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West Virginians voice opinions at EPA Clean Power Plan meetings in Pittsburgh

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PITTSBURGH, Pa. - By SUZANNE ELLIOTT

For The State Journal


The Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to limit carbon emissions from power plants drew harsh criticism from several of West Virginia's elected officials at a public hearing in Pittsburgh.

“Whether this administration chooses to recognize it or not, the fact is coal powers nearly 40 percent of our electricity in the country. It’s not going anywhere,” said West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, during the first day of a two-day public session the EPA is holding on the proposed Clean Power Plan in downtown Pittsburgh. The hearings continued Friday, Aug. 1. Similar public hearings have been held in Denver, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

The Clean Power Plan, part of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan, would cut hundreds of millions of tons of carbon pollution and hundreds of thousands of tons of particle pollution, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the EPA said. Because coal is mostly carbon, sulfur, hydrogen and nitrogen, those in the coal industry have felt they are being targeted by the Clean Power Plan.

The federal proposal sets state-specific goals and options to meet them in a flexible manner, either alone or with several other states in a multi-state plan. It is also expected to reduce pollutants that contribute to the soot and smog by more than 25 percent. States have until June 30, 2016 to have a plan completed. 

“Trying to squeeze coal out of the energy equation is not only unrealistic, it is dangerous and irresponsible,” she said. “There is no reason to pit clean air against good-paying jobs. West Virginia can lead the country in developing advanced coal technology that supports both.”

Tennant said the Obama Administration should invest more in carbon capture and storage technology to reduce emissions from coal-powered utility plants. She said there is $8 billion from a Department of Energy loan guarantee program that had been earmarked for development of this technology.

“Not only will this approach strengthen and protect our coal jobs in West Virginia,” she said. “It will create a whole new opportunity for American job growth by developing and perfecting CCS technology and meeting global demand. Work with us, not against us. Instead of attacking coal jobs with regulations, invest in West Virginia and we will deliver the technology to cut emissions without cutting jobs.”

“It is not right that we as West Virginians have to take our message to Pennsylvania in order to be heard,” she said. “But, we will not be ignored.”

Power plants are the largest concentrated source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, making up nearly one-third of all domestic greenhouse emissions. There are currently no national limits on carbon pollution issues.

The EPA proposal puts the nation on track to cut carbon pollution by 30 percent by 2030, which equates to 730 million metric tons of carbon pollution, or emissions from 150 million cars. The EPA said the Clean Power Plan has public health and climate benefits worth $55 billion to $93 billion per year in 2030, which would outweigh the $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion that the plan would cost to implement. Reducing exposure to particle pollution and ozone in 2030 will avoid a projected 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths; 145,000 asthma attacks in children; 340 to 3,300 heart attacks, 2,750 hospital admissions and 480,000 missed school or work days.

Vincent Brisini, deputy secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Waste Air, Radiation and Remediation, said the EPA needs to proceed with the Clean Power Plan cautiously.

“These types of decisions should not be made by elected officials,” Brisini said. 

But, Ed Perry, an aquatic biologist, said the EPA needs to move quickly on its Clean Power Plan. 

“Global warming is here,” said Perry, adding that rising temperatures caused 35 percent loss of the habitat of the Brook Trout, the state fish. In addition, the state tree, the Eastern Hemlock, has dwindled in numbers because of rising temperatures, he said.

“For 350 months, we have had above average temperatures,” Perry said.