RICHMOND – Sen. Phillip Puckett (D-38th District) was the only Democratic legislator to break from his party Tuesday by signing a letter opposing proposed regulations on new coal plants.
“We think it is important that President (Barack) Obama understands how important the coal industry is to Virginia’s economy and how harmful these proposed regulations will be for Virginia if they are put in place,” Puckett said during a morning press conference held in the General Assembly Building.
He added, “More than 45,000 Virginians work in the coal industry, and their livelihood is at stake. They deserve to have their voices heard.”
Puckett, who represents Pulaski County, was among 85 Virginia legislators who signed the highly partisan letter to President Obama opposing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), which they call a “de facto ban on coal-fired power plants in the United States.” They contend the regulations will “amount to a direct attack on America’s most abundant natural resource.”
The letter primarily was signed by House and Senate Republicans, including 7th District Delegate Nick Rush and 12th District Delegate Joseph Yost, who also represent Pulaski County.
Three House Republicans did not sign the letter: Robert B. Bell of Charlottesville, 58th District, Thomas A. Greason of Lansdowne, 32nd District, and Robert G. Marshall of Manassas, 13th District.
All legislators were given the opportunity to sign, according to press conference organizers.
The letter is part of the EPA’s public comment period on NPSP regulations. Comments can be submitted to the EPA through the Count on Coal website, www.countoncoal.org/comment. The deadline is March 10.
“With this letter, we are sending a strong message to President Obama and the EPA: these regulations are reckless and irresponsible, and they will hurt our economy,” Republican First District Delegate Terry Kilgore said at Tuesday’s press conference. “They will cost us jobs, and they will dangerously jeopardize our nation’s energy supply.”
In the letter, legislators say “a direct side-effect” of the proposed regulations would be a reduction in school funding in far Southwest Virginia where coal severance taxes make up a “significant” portion of education funds. They would reduce funding “in an area of the country that needs it the most,” the letter adds.
Legislators also contend additional regulations on the low-cost power provided by coal plants will impact residential utility bills and “jeopardize the affordable, reliable power and economic benefits that coal brings to millions of Virginians.”
The letter continues, “Utilities across the country have invested tens of billions of dollars to bring coal-fired power plants into compliance with current EPA regulations. Advanced, high-efficiency coal technology can further reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent. By increasing emission standards to unrealistic levels, the EPA would jeopardize this investment and the reliability of the nation’s power grid …
“We urge you to reject policies that would inflict further harm to coal-based electricity generation that provides our residents and businesses the affordable, reliable power they need to prosper,” the legislators state. “With thoughtful policies we can address emissions while assuring our nation’s continued prosperity and economic competitiveness through the continued use of America’s most abundant energy resource – coal.”
Virginia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Barry DuVal, Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance (VCEA) Chairman Robert Litton, and several members of the VCEA Board of Directors and staff joined legislators at the press conference.
DuVal said, “Affordable, reliable electricity is a key ingredient to creating a business climate that attracts manufacturers and other major employers to Virginia. Taking coal out of our energy mix will increase the cost of doing business in Virginia and will make it much harder for us to attract and keep employers in our state.
“When our current fleet of coal plants come offline in the coming years, if we can’t build new coal plants we are going to have a very difficult time filling that huge gap in our electricity supply,” DuVal added.
Litton contends the regulations will “threaten the survival of local governments” as well as jobs and economic development.
“Our coal-producing counties depend on coal taxes for as much as 25 percent of their annual budgets – money we use to fund our public schools, roads and other vital public infrastructure. Our region simply can’t survive without a thriving coal industry,” said Litton.