Energy bill

June 29, 2009

— The passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 is an alarming development for the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.
Local lawmakers were split in their support of the far-reaching climate bill that seeks to regulate a reduction in greenhouse emissions. It would, in essence, require for the first time limits on pollution blamed for global warming — specifically carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels such as coal. U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., voted against the legislation, and U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., voted in favor of it.
We applaud Rahall’s decision to vote against the energy bill, and question Boucher’s decision to support it.
Both Rahall and Boucher are in agreement that congressional action is necessary. According to Rahall, it would be unwise for lawmakers to simply set back and allow the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, as the agency has been mandated to do by the Supreme Court.
Based upon that mandate, Boucher argues a federal regulation of greenhouse gases is now inevitable.
Rahall said he chose to work with fellow lawmakers and stakeholders — including the coal industry, manufacturers, and labor — to positively influence the bill and America’s climate change strategies. As a result, Rahall said coal miners and responsible industry members have been at the table — and not on the sidelines — during the energy bill debate.
While he welcomes a provision in the energy bill that would make $10 billion available to advance carbon capture and sequestration technologies, Rahall is rightfully concerned about the impact of the energy bill on the coal industry in southern West Virginia.
“Coal does much more than keep the lights on in big cities across America,” Rahall said last week. “In southern West Virginia, it covers the mortgage, puts food on the family dinner table, and keeps open the doors of small businesses. While the emissions target in the early years of this program has been lowered from the 20 percent cap initially contained in this bill, there remains widespread concern that even the reduced cap —17 percent in 2020 — is still too high and too soon to incentivize rapid development and deployment of carbon capture and sequestration technologies, so as to ensure coal mining jobs for the future.”
Rahall says he won’t support the energy bill until more changes are made to it.
While the Obama administration claims the climate bill will spur a new energy revolution, we fear this so-called revolution could be harmful to the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, and the people who reside here. The proposed energy bill could lead to higher electricity bills, which residents of this region can not afford.
Also, we fear this legislation will negatively impact our region’s mining industry. Coal accounts for more than half of the electricity produced in our nation and 99 percent of the electricity in West Virginia. The energy bill would require the capturing of the carbon released when coal is burned. It also advocates the development of solar panels, wind turbines, energy-efficient light bulbs and other green advancements.
Boucher argues the climate bill as proposed will keep electricity rates affordable, and enable utilities to continue using coal. He goes on to say that electricity rates will only be “modestly affected.” That’s a somewhat vague statement that should be clarified.
Will electricity rates increase under the energy bill or not? If they do, how much of an increase are we talking about for the average family?
While Boucher also argues that the energy bill will create new jobs by deploying and exporting carbon dioxide emitting technologies, we are still forced to question how many jobs will be impacted or lost in the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia by the climate bill.
We join Rahall in calling for major changes to the energy bill passed by the House — changes that ensure the hard working citizens of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia won’t be paying more to heat, cool and light their homes each month. And changes that ensure coal will continue to keep the lights on in cities across our nation.
We urge the U.S. Senate, including U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., to stand up and fight for coal, for coal miners and for the hardworking citizens of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia who simply cannot afford to pay more for energy.
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