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West Virginia's congressional delegation joined Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Wednesday in bashing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over a plan to limit heat-trapping pollution from new power plants, calling it a job-killer for the state and its coal industry.
The rule announced Tuesday could either derail or jump-start plans for 15 new coal-fired power plants in 10 states, depending on when they start construction. Eventually, all coal-fired power plants would need to install equipment to capture half of their carbon pollution.
Tomblin said it's clear the Obama administration is trying to "end the use of coal as we know it." The proposed guidelines would eliminate jobs and drive up electricity costs in West Virginia, he said.
"I will not stand for it," Tomblin declared. "This latest announcement is yet another example of the EPA's inappropriate use of its regulatory authority to set policy for our country. Those decisions reside within the Congress, not an unelected bureaucracy."
The regulation stemmed from a settlement with environmental groups and states. The government already controls global warming pollution at the largest industrial sources, has adopted the first-ever standards for new cars and trucks and is working on regulations to reduce greenhouse gases at refineries.
But EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says the agency has no plans to pursue regulations for existing power plants.
The EPA proposal fell short of environmentalists' hopes, however, because it goes easier than it could have on coal-fired power, one of the largest sources of the gases blamed for global warming.
Jackson said her agency's plan "creates a path forward for future facilities to use technology that burns coal, while releasing less carbon pollution."
The president of the United Mine Workers of America countered that coal plants would meet the EPA standard only if they employ expensive carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology.
"EPA knows very well that CCS technology has not been commercially demonstrated," Cecil Roberts said.
The EPA would require the potential builders to commit to CCS "at the time of their permit applications, despite the associated costs and uncertainties," he said. "In practice, it would not be possible to finance a new coal plant to meet the proposed EPA standards."
Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin called the proposal "wrong-headed" and said it effectively prevents construction of any new coal-fired plants.
"This EPA is fully engaging in a war on coal," he said, "even though this country will continue to rely on coal as an affordable, stable and abundant energy source for decades to come."
The EPA's approach "relies totally on cheap natural gas, and we've seen that bubble burst before," Manchin added. "It might sound good now, but what happens if those prices go up? Your average hardworking families and manufacturers will be left holding the bag of uncertainty -- either in the prices they pay or in the reliability of our electrical system."
Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall called it "irresponsible and unreasonable."
"To be energy independent, we need to have a full menu of domestic energy choices," he said. "Cutting off coal at the knees, as this rule does, undercuts our energy and economic security."
Republican Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley argued the EPA is once again overstepping its authority.
"Whether coal, natural gas or oil," Capito said, "this administration is intent on holding our fossil fuels hostage."
McKinley noted that just last week, a federal judge found the EPA had overreached in vetoing a water pollution permit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had given Arch Coal for its Spruce No. 1 surface mine in Logan County.
"Plain and simple, this will kill West Virginia jobs," McKinley said. "... The fact that they are nonetheless proceeding with new regulations that effectively ban new coal-fired power plants is a signal that their arrogance knows no limit."