By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff WRiter
Coal, Kentucky’s chief contribution to the energy industry, has had its share of champions lately.
First, there was the country crooner from Pineville who appeared on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” to sing an original tune called “Coal Keep the Lights On” — an anthem in support of eastern Kentucky’s coal mining roots that’s already getting radio airplay.
Now another prominent eastern Kentuckian — Somerset’s own Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers — is doing his part to help the cause by taking on a man he sees as one of coal’s top national antagonists: the President of the United States of America.
On Tuesday, Rogers’ office announced that the Fifth District U.S. Representative had sent a Congressional letter to President Barack Obama opposing the administration’s newest environmental regulations.
In June, Obama announced intentions to regulate greenhouse gases put out by power plants via implementation of New Source Performance Standards, pollution-control mandates issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Obama’s memo called on the EPA to propose new guidelines by June 1, 2014 for plants that already exist or have been modified, and to have them finalized by the next year.
Rogers took on the president’s plans, specifically the idea of imposing an energy tax by regulatory fiat (money that derives its value from government policy), saying that they would be “circumventing the will of Congress, which has repeatedly voted against carbon regulations, taxes, and cap and trade.”
Rogers was joined in composing the letter by 22 other U.S. Representatives, including fellow Kentucky Congressmen Brett Guthrie of the Second District, Thomas Massie of the Fourth District, and Andy Barr of the Sixth District, all Republicans like Rogers.
“We and others have often criticized a ‘War on Coal’ waged by this White House and these accusations were met with firm denial by Administration officials and environmentalist allies,” read the letter. “However, given the cumulative impact of continued mining permit delays, EPA regulations, and your annual budgets’ repeated proposed cuts to the Department of Energy’s fossil energy research and development programs, it is hard to come to any conclusion other than that your Administration is systematically trying to eliminate the use of carbon fuels, particularly coal.
“More to the point, Mr. Daniel P. Schrag of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology finally feels comfortable admitting: ‘Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed,’” the letter continued. “This remark by a senior White House ‘expert’ demonstrates that these policies are explicitly an attempt to drive coal from the marketplace.”
Kentucky is one of the top three coal-producing states in the union, but its output has slowed in recent years including to information from www.kentuckycoal.org, decreasing last year by more than 16 percent, the lowest level since 1965 — and by the end of 2012, the western side of the state was producing more coal than the eastern side for the first time since 1960, despite the latter region’s traditional reliance on the industry. Over 14,000 individuals on average were employed by coal mines by the end of 2012, but that number too had declined by more than 4,000 since the beginning of the year.
The majority of Kentucky coal is shipped to power plants in 19 states, mostly throughout the American southeast, meaning that even while the industry isn’t what it used to be, it’s still a key economic cog in the Congressional district Rogers tends to in Washington.
As such, the letter claimed that “piling on billions of dollars in additional red tape” harms the economic livelihood of the region, which is already facing grim unemployment rates.
“Sadly, Appalachia is not alone,” reads the letter. “Fully one-fifth of the nation’s coal plants — 204 plants across 25 states — closed between 2009 and 2012. Seven EPA regulations proposed over the last four years will cost $16.7 billion annually once fully implemented. Power plants of any type are multiyear, multibillion dollar projects, and this onslaught of regulations will deter the investment in new facilities as older plants are retired and a recovering economy renews energy demand.
The letter claims that rate hikes cost 887,000 mining, utility, shipping, and downstream manufacturing jobs across the country per year.
“The manufacturing sector, which was making a comeback due largely to affordable energy, will again be put at a cost disadvantage compared to foreign competitors,” reads the letter. “Ultimately, these policies pose a challenge not only to our economy, but also to our national security.”
That’s because the U.S. has 250 years worth of domestic coal reserves at current consumption rates, as Rogers’ message point out, which could combine with oil, natural gas, nuclear, and renewables to make the country energy secure, a longtime goal.
“We ask that you stand with our constituents, our coal miners, and our coal communities by rejecting these proposed NSPS greenhouse gas regulations to reflect the true commercial realities of different fuel types and control technologies.”