Cumberland Times-News

November 14, 2013

Much at stake

Many coal jobs in region ride on court decision

Cumberland Times-News

— West Virginia — and Allegany and Garrett counties in Maryland — have a lot riding on a pending Supreme Court decision about the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule on cross-state pollution.

West Virginia joined eight other states last week in filing a major brief in the Supreme Court challenging the EPA’s new rules.

The West Virginia amicus, or friend of the court, brief argues that EPA exceeded its authority under the federal Clean Air Act when the agency promulgated a rule in 2011 announcing new air pollution cuts and imposing federal implementation plans on states. The brief argues the act requires the EPA to give states an opportunity to decide how to meet new air pollution standards.

The Mountain State has thousands of jobs in the coal industry. According to the latest annual report from the Maryland Bureau of Mines, mining companies employed 373 workers in Allegany and Garrett counties in 2011, producing about 3 million tons of coal that year. That number put Maryland 18th in the nation in total coal production.

In filing the West Virginia brief, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said: "Our office is very concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency's cross-state air pollution rule targeting coal- and natural gas-fired power plants. The agency's rule imposes one-size-fits-all federal plans on power plants and utilities, costing them $2.4 billion per year to comply."

The consulting group ICF International estimates that 20 percent of America’s coal power plants could be retired as soon as 2020 because of the EPA’s air, waste and water regulations. The Institute for Energy Research projects that the Cross State Air Pollution “transport rule” and the Utility MACT “toxics rule” will remove more than 33 gigawatts  of electricity generation—almost 10 percent of the electricity generated by coal plants — from production..

All of this is likely to translate into massive coal industry job losses and higher electricity rates around the nation. If the Supreme Court, which is expected to make its decision next June, sides with the EPA, the economic ripple will be felt throughout the U.S.