The argument that the Obama administration is waging a “War on Coal” has gained new momentum with Monday’s release of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule on CO2 emissions from power plants. The rule attracted outrage from lawmakers, particularly those in the states most reliant on coal. But not all coal state politicians — or even all coal-heavy utilities — view the rule as an attack on their interests.
In fact, lawmakers in coal-heavy states across the country have gone so far as to laud the rule, which ranks among the most significant actions a president has ever taken on climate change. Here are a few of these lawmakers’ responses:
1. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT): Montana generates 53 percent of its electricity from coal and has the largest coal reserves in the U.S., producing about 43 million tons of coal each year. But coal wasn’t the Montana resource Sen. Tester highlighted in his response to the EPA rule.
“Agriculture and outdoor recreation power Montana’s economy,” he said. “From floods to fires to beetle-killed trees, we know the consequences of the changing climate. State-based solutions that limit the effects of climate change will keep these industries and our economy strong. This responsible proposal gives states flexibility to balance the needs of today with the demands of tomorrow.” 2. Sen. John Walsh (D-MT) also said he thought reducing CO2 was a good idea, and that he would “be listening to Montanans in the coming months to make sure that any final rule from the EPA is right for Montana’s future and for Montana’s jobs now.”
3. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) Though West Virginia was the second-largest coal producing state in the country in 2013, Sen. Rockefeller, who is retiring at the end of this term and who this year spoke out against chemical pollution in West Virginia, voiced his support for the EPA rule.
“The EPA announced today a major step in reducing carbon emissions, and I support its goal of safeguarding the public’s health,” he said. “Strengthening West Virginians’ health and well being has always been at the heart of my career in public service.”
Rockefeller said he understood why some in his state were worried, given the high percentage of workers employed by the coal industry there. He said he was in favor of the Obama administration looking into ways of increasing safety nets for West Virginia’s poor, who could be particularly vulnerable to changes in the state’s coal industry.
“However, rather than let fear alone drive our response, we should make this an opportunity to build a stronger future for ourselves,” he said. “West Virginians have never walked away from a challenge, and I know together we can create a future that protects our health, creates jobs, and maintains coal as a core part of our energy supply.”
4. Tim Kaine (D-VA) Kaine was more nuanced in his support for the proposal, though he did point to “recent alarming climate trends” including sea level rise that have already impacted his state — which is home to America’s largest coal export facility — as evidence that reducing CO2 was in the national interest.
“Today the EPA proposed standards for carbon emissions for existing power plants,” he said Monday. “Reducing this carbon pollution is in our national interest, but we have an obligation to do it in a way that makes economic sense.”
5. Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO): Missouri depends on coal for 83 percent of its power generation, but Rep. Clay still praised the EPA rule.
The rule “gives states significant flexibility to help them reach the new clean air goals over time,” Clay said. “We have a moral obligation to act on climate change, as a matter of public health and as a matter of environmental justice.”
6. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL): As the Senate Majority Whip, it’s at first glance not surprising that Durbin agrees with the EPA’s plan to reduce power plant carbon emissions. But add in the fact that his state of Illinois is the fifth-largest coal producing state in the country, and his approval of the new rule becomes a little less commonplace.
“Communities in Illinois are already leading the nation in choosing power that is renewable, affordable and clean,” Durbin said. “I will continue to support these efforts and other investments in innovative technologies, such as FutureGen 2.0, that create Illinois jobs now and invest in clean energy sources for the future.”
Some utilities, too, haven’t raised much objection to the new rule, especially those that already have invested in lower-carbon energy sources like nuclear and natural gas. The Edison Electric Institute, which represents U.S. investor-owned electric companies, said that while they were still assessing rule, “EPA appears to have allowed for a range of compliance options to reflect the diversity of approaches that states and electric utilities have undertaken and may undertake to reduce GHG emissions.”
And Ray Evans, Vice President for Environmental and Technologies for Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp. — a utility that gets 57 percent of its energy from coal — said that because in 2015 his utility will have reduced its carbon emissions by nearly 25 percent from 2005 levels, it doesn’t have to do much to meet the EPA standards.
“Our initial reaction is that we don’t have too far to go,” Evans said. “Clearly, we view this as the kickoff of the football game.”