The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed new carbon-emission rules Monday that aim to cut carbon dioxide releases from coal fired power plants. The overall national target is a reduction of 30 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.
State officials say they’re still working to understand what the 600-plus page document really means for West Virginia, but for now, many are claiming the bad outweighs the good and are pledging to do everything they can to stop it.
What state officials do understand about these draft regulations so far is that they are different than anything the EPA has proposed in the past.
In September, the agency released a proposal to reduce carbon emissions from newly constructed power plants. Monday’s proposal, however, doesn’t focus on the individual facility. Instead, it sets carbon dioxide standards for the state as a whole.
“What EPA is saying is that by 2030, overall West Virginia’s total CO2 emission rate, which is pounds of CO2 per kilowatt hour that we generate, has to be 1620 or less,” said West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman.
He explained to meet the EPA’s new standard, West Virginia would have to reduce its CO2 emissions by 15 percent compared to 2012 measurements, the latest available.
Huffman said there are some efficiencies to be found within coal fired power plants themselves, but not enough to meet the reduction standard.
“Knowing how much energy we produce by coal, knowing what the coal CO2 numbers are now,” he said, “it’s going to require a significant reduction in the combustion of coal and a replacement of that by some other energy source.”
An option is to switch from coal to natural gas, an industry that happens to be rapidly growing in the Northern Panhandle and North Central portions of the state, but Huffman said just switching to natural gas won’t do enough. West Virginia will have to go even further to reduce their emissions under the new rule.
Other options set out in the EPA’s plan include things like energy efficiency, investing in renewable energy and making power plant upgrades, but it can also include offering discounts to consumers in exchange for shifting their energy consumption to off-peak hours.
“We appreciate that the EPA is giving our state some flexibility to design an implementation plan," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said during a press conference Monday, "but based on the briefings we’ve had, these proposals appear to realize some of our worst fears."
"The bottom line is the only way to comply with these rules is to use less West Virginia coal.”
Tomblin said his administration will do everything they can to block the rules, but will continue working with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to mitigate the impacts he said communities in West Virginia will feel as a result.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said his office is looking at the legalities of the rules, calling it an overreach of federal power.