WASHINGTON (Reuters) - West Virginia can keep its coal mining alive by building “next-generation” power plants co-fired by coal and natural gas, even as the state challenges federal carbon emission rules in court, the president of the mine workers’ union said Tuesday.
United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts told a conference hosted by West Virginia’s governor the state should become the first to build new power plants that run on coal and natural gas, keeping coal-mining viable in a state hit by changing market conditions.
The union and West Virginia’s attorney general have both filed petitions in federal court to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) carbon rules that limit emissions from new and existing power plants.
West Virginia lawmakers also lead efforts in Congress to try block EPA regulations.
But Roberts said the state should make plans for complying with the regulations in case legal challenges fail.
“I propose we embark on a program of building next-generation power plants here in West Virginia, co-fired by coal and natural gas that will meet whatever EPA emissions limits for new sources may survive after the litigation process is concluded,” Roberts said in prepared remarks.
Under the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, any power plant built in the future can emit no more than 1,400 lbs of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. The most efficient coal plant in operation in the United States currently runs at over 1,800 lbs/MWh.
Under the union’s proposal, building new plants that run on coal and less carbon-intensive natural gas with technology to partially capture carbon emissions can give coal a lifeline.
“We clearly have the reserves of both coal and gas; we have the manpower to get the fuels and the expertise needed to build and operate these new generation plants,” he said.
He said the state has programs in place to support the construction of new power plants through public-private partnerships.
Investor services firm Moody’s forecast a 10 percent decline in coal production in the region next year due to low domestic and international demand.
Several major coal producers such as Alpha Natural Resources Inc and Patriot Coal Corp have filed for bankruptcy protection this year.
Roberts said the state will eventually have to prepare for a future of lower coal demand regardless of who is in office.
“Shaking our fists at Washington, D.C., and retreating behind our mountains simply won’t cut it anymore,” he said.
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Lisa Shumaker