ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Government representatives, industry leaders and an EPA official convened Tuesday at the Ohio University Eastern campus in an informative session to discuss the current presidential administration and to testify about regulatory policies that have a negative impact on the coal industry and the dependent jobs, industries and community.
The title of the session was "The Green Agenda and the War on Coal."
"Since taking office this president and his administration has led an all-out fight against the coal industry," said Rep. Bill Johnson, saying that EPA has hurt coal production through permit obstacles for coal mines and vetoing existing, approved permits, while the Department of the Interior has tried to rewrite the stream buffer zone rule. Johnson said this could mean the loss of thousands of jobs an an increase in the price of electricity.
T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK
GOVERNMENT AND coal industry officials took part in an information session at Ohio University Eastern Tuesday. Many of those in the crowd sported appropriate mining gear.
He added that on the market side, the EPA has placed unrealistic and uneconomical regulations that would require expensive upgrades to coal-fire power plants. He said power plants may either shut down or spending billions raised through rate hikes on consumers.
Johnson cited the imminent closing of a Marietta plant and the loss of 150 jobs and higher utility rates for the area.
"The people who are hit hardest are the seniors on fixed income, hardworking families and the small businesses," he said, adding that families have seen a yearly $300 increase in utility bills as a result of these policies.
Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly spoke about the importance of coal and fossil fuels in maintaining economic freedom.
"This administration does have a war on coal. Do not be fooled," he said, adding that the country is being put at risk despite the abundance of natural resources. "We are at dire risk of losing the greatest country in the world."
West Virginia Congressman David McKinley said there was a radical element to the administration's gamble on environmental interests and renewable energy. He noted quotes from administration members indicating an intent to halt coal production and trade through regulations. He cited the planned closure of 125 out of 700 power generating plants across the country, resulting in 25 percent less energy into the grid. He said he doubted the availability and dependability of alternative fuel sources to compensate. He noted that countries such as China and India would not be bound by any imposed environmental concerns and are pursuing coal power.
Robert Hodanbosi, chief of the Ohio EPA Division of Air Pollution Control with 40 years of experience in the field, testified that new and additional standards continue to increase the cost of using coal.
He said there has been a substantial improvement in air quality in the Ohio Valley and the state, but at a substantial cost to utilities and energy. He cited improvements in sulfur dioxide concentrations and said further reduction will require greater expense at diminishing returns.
He noted new mercury and air toxin rules for coal fire plants requiring compliance by 2015 with a possible one-year extension due to the difficulties in meeting the rules. More than 25 boilers at power plants will be closed. He said a shortage of electricity has meant industrial consumers reduced consumption during the recent heat wave.
Other concerns are proposed tighter limitations on water discharge from coal fire plants and changes to the manner that coal residuals are regulated.
"Any significant increase in electric rates will have additional adverse impacts on Ohio Industry," he said, noting the need of reliable, inexpensive electric power to industries such as manganese ferroalloy plants.
Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson reported every coal mining job supports 11 other jobs. He recounted several instances of planned shutdowns costing or impacting close to 800 jobs. Among examples was the community of Avon Lake on Lake Erie, where a coal and oil fired generating facility will close in 2015.
"Avon Lake is only one example," he said.
Thompson added that the administration is turning its attention to natural gas through overzealous attention to effects of hydraulic fracking. He also said natural gas prices may increase without the competition of coal.
Other speakers were Tom Mackall, president of East Fairfield Coal Co. and Sterling Mining Corp., and Tony Ahern, president of Buckeye Power, Inc. They spoke about their efforts to comply with regulation and the accompanying costs.
Mackall said that the uncertainty about the future of coal has led to hesitation investing in the field locally, while foreign operations are becoming a more attractive investment.
Ahern added that rural communities may be forced to turn to other, more expensive sources of energy.
Ahern and Kelly added that the grid is a fragile system that must be maintained.
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