Virginia Is Cut Slack on New Carbon Reductions

EPA makes it easier for state to reach goal.



After much gnashing of teeth, Virginia finds that it has dodged the bullet – sort of – with the federal requirements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions released Monday.

The Clean Power Plan, promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is designed to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent nationally over the next 15 years. Some have hailed the plan as the strongest move President Barack Obama has taken to deal with global warming.

When EPA released a draft plan a year ago, many in the state were upset that Virginia seemed not to be getting credit for having reduced its coal plant discharges and has long had four nuclear reactors that emit zero carbon.

Complaining that the EPA plan was a potential disaster, Dominion Virginia Power muscled a complicated and confusing bill through General Assembly that lets it freeze its rates while avoiding audits by the State Corporation Commission for five years.

State business leaders claimed the plan would hike electricity rates so much it would make it difficult to recruit new businesses. Even Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe chimed in, saying the plan needed to be changed.

Environmentalists took a different view. The Natural Resources Defense Council said that according to the figures in the draft plan, Virginia was 80 percent on the way to meting the carbon reductions that were called for. They believe the plan will provide a much-needed push to renewable energy such as solar and wind.

Well, guess what happened? The plan was changed. Virginia was cut some slack.

While the final plan overall tightened restrictions nationally, it goes easier on the Old Dominion. Instead of having to meet an old goal of reducing its carbon emissions from 810 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity produced, it now must reduce the levels to 934 pounds.

That’s a 15-percent increase, meaning it doesn’t have to do as much.

McAuliffe and Dominion chief Tom Farrell praised the plan, but true to form, some Republican legislators brought back the same old arguments.

“The E.P.A. rule released today is not only another example of an overreaching federal government, but more importantly it will drive up energy costs for hardworking Virginians and further damage our already struggling economy,” said House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), according to the Augusta Free Press. .

Republican Delegate Terry Kilgore revisited the “War on Coal,” saying that Obama, the EPA and the green community have conspired to take jobs away from hard-working, coal-dependent families in Southwest Virginia, an area he represents.

There are a few problems with Kilgore’s remarks: Coal employment in the state peaked in 1991 and has ben dropping ever since. A major coal producer in the state, Alpha Natural Resources, went bankrupt Monday but that really didn’t have a lot to do with the EPA plan.

Alpha, a major contributor to Kilgore’s campaigns, went heavily into debt to buy troubled Massey Energy for $7.1 billion in 2011. Massey was a notoriously bad firm, under which 29 miners died in 2010 in the worst mine disaster in 40 years. Donald Blankenship, its former chief executive, goes on trial in West Virginia on several felony charges Oct. 1.

Alpha not only overpaid for Massey, but also banked on Massey’s huge troves of metallurgical coal to export to make steel around the world. Well, China has been through a sharp downturn and demand for steel has plummeted.

One wonders how much Kilgore knows about coal, because world demand for metallurgical coal has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Obama and the EPA, whose plan affects steam coal used to generate electricity. True, some of Alpha’s product is used for this purpose, but as always, the facts get twisted.

In any event, it appears that the United States finally is doing something about reducing global warming.

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