U.S. coal state lawmakers seek regulatory relief from EPA chief

WASHINGTON Thu Aug 1, 2013 7:25pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats from West Virginia, concerned about jobs in the major coal-producing state, urged President Barack Obama's chief environmental regulator to be flexible when putting in place future federal curbs on carbon emissions.

A delegation of 17 Democratic lawmakers from the state, led by U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, met with Gina McCarthy, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to press their concerns about the economic impact of agency rules on their state's economy.

The group, which included Governor Ray Tomblin, also met with Heather Zichal, Obama's energy and climate adviser, and Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council for Environmental Quality.

"We asked and made it clear that the way to implement additional regulations on coal had to be in a reasonable manner and take into account our state and our jobs and our families," said Larry Puccio, chair of West Virginia's Democratic executive committee.

Manchin requested Thursday's meeting. He was the only Democrat in the Senate to vote against McCarthy's confirmation, saying he did not object to her personally but to the "unreasonable and unobtainable" standards the EPA would place on electrical generators that would directly have an impact on coal demand.

The EPA is under pressure from both state governments and Republicans in the House of Representatives who accuse the agency of imposing costly regulations that do not guarantee environmental benefits.

President Barack Obama rolled out a climate change action plan in June, and issued a memorandum directing the EPA to complete carbon pollution standards for the construction of new power plants by September 20 as part of the sweeping proposal.

For existing plants, Obama has ordered the EPA to release a draft proposal by June 2014 to be finalized by June 2015.

Puccio said the delegation hoped McCarthy would be more responsive to West Virginia and other coal states, which will take the biggest hit from new carbon curbs.

"In the past, we sent letters to (former EPA Administrator Lisa) Jackson and we never received any response," he said.

"But we were extremely optimistic about how this cabinet secretary responded," he said of McCarthy. "She took notes, asked questions and appeared to want to communicate better and see if there is a reasonable solution."

WAR ON COAL?

McCarthy and other members of the Obama administration are eager to dispel claims by opponents that the administration's climate plan is a "war on coal."

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz visited the heart of coal country earlier this week and said in a speech at the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown that the development of clean coal technologies would be a key part of Obama's climate plan.

Democrats in Pennsylvania, another state with a large coal industry, questioned whether the administration's emphasis carbon capture and storage and other advanced technologies to clean up coal - including $8 billion in loan guarantees - was an empty promise.

"The coal and power industry has made great strides addressing environmental concerns, and ‘clean coal' technologies have never been given more than lip service," said Democratic state Representative Pam Snyder to the Daily Caller, a Washington news and opinion website.

On June 24, seven U.S. governors of both parties representing coal-reliant states, including of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, wrote to the EPA and Obama to ask him to back off on carbon emission standards for new power plants.

SYMBOLIC EFFORTS IN THE HOUSE

Opposition to the EPA's pending rules on carbon restrictions is strong in the House, where lawmakers this week floated bills aimed at reigning in the agency's authority.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee is marking up a bill that contains a resolution to subpoena the EPA for data used in studies that underpin their rulemakings.

On the House floor, meanwhile, lawmakers approved an amendment proposed by Republican Steve Scalise to the broader "Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny" Act that would require congressional approval of a carbon tax.

The House Appropriations Committee, which is in charge of the core funding of the government, on Wednesday completed a bill that would cut funding for the EPA by 34 percent.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Ros Krasny and Steve Orlofsky)

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