WHEELING - The leader of a think tank on energy policy sees electrical blackouts in America's future if the Environmental Protection Agency continues plans to phase out coal-fired electric plants.
Thomas Borelli, director of the Free Enterprise Project at the National Center for Public Policy Research, also believes there could be backlash in the 2012 elections if voters find themselves without electricity in the coming months.
New EPA rules were issued last week and will allow companies three years to comply. These will further limit mercury emissions under the Clean Air Act, set new limits on the emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides and establish new coal-ash disposal rules.
More than half of America's energy supply - and all electricity generated locally - is produced by burning coal. Many utility companies with coal-fired plants have indicated they can't afford to comply with the rules and will instead close some of their facilities.
Among those expected to close by the end of 2014 is the Kammer Plant in Marshall County, operated by American Electric Power.
"There are an amazing number of utility companies, grid operators and even state regulatory officials who are waving the white flag," Borelli said. "They say if the EPA is allowed to proceed with these regulations, there could be electricity shortages - brownouts and blackouts across the nation.
"Despite the warning, the Obama administration refuses to do in-depth study. ... People are saying there's a problem, and it's just being ignored," he added.
Borelli believes Congress "needs to step up, stop the EPA and pass the Train Act." The Train Act would require the EPA to do a cost-benefit analysis of environmental rules before they are implemented and would delay the rules set to go into effect in January until the study is completed.
"Projecting in the future, if blackouts and brownouts happen, it will be a difficult election for senators and representatives," Borelli said. "Constituents might want to know why they didn't act to stop it.
"There could be a significant effect in the 2012 election if there are brownouts and blackouts, and questions of who failed to control the EPA," he continued. "There could be political consequences."
Borelli suggested local members of Congress aren't doing enough to stop the new EPA rules.
"There's very little leadership from coal-dependent states," he said. "They should be leading the charge to stop the EPA. They should be introducing the Train Act. They should be telling (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid this is bad for constituents."