DENVER—The Obama administration’s crackdown on coal came under fire Tuesday as critics blamed the increase in regulations for the announced shuttering of eight coal plants and the anticipated retirement of hundreds more.
An industry analysis released Tuesday shows that more than 200 coal-based units, including 11 in Colorado, are scheduled to be shut down or converted as a result of the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent restrictions on mercury toxins and proposed rules on carbon emissions, coupled with falling natural-gas prices.
Meanwhile, Alpha Natural Resources announced that it would close eight coal plants and lay off 1,200 workers in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, thanks to factors that include “a regulatory environment that’s aggressively aimed at constraining the use of coal,” Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield told the Associated Press.
“This is further evidence that EPA is waging a war on coal and a war on affordable electricity prices and jobs,” said America Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity president and CEO Mike Duncan in a statement. “EPA continues to ignore the damage that its new regulations are causing to the U.S. economy and to states that depend on coal for jobs and affordable electricity.”
The coal industry’s woes have the potential to spill over into the presidential campaign, given that the biggest coal states also happen to be swing states. The ACCCE report showed that five of the six states most affected by the expected closure of 204 coal-based electricity units are toss-ups, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana.
Colorado, also a swing state, ranked ninth on the list of states projected to lose both coal-fired units and megawatts generated by coal-fired electricity plants. At least one Colorado mine, the New Elk coal mine near Trinidad, has already suspended production indefinitely.
In a statement Tuesday, the EPA framed the closures as a product of market forces, not government overreach.
“Coal is expected to generate more of America’s electricity than any other fuel source, however, economic factors such as low natural gas prices, low electricity demand, and rising coal prices are reducing demand,” said the EPA in a statement to The Hill. “Market conditions in the power sector are driving business decisions that are completely independent from long-overdue pollution standards.”
House Republicans plan to spotlight the administration’s regulatory moves in a vote this week on a package of five bills known collectively as the Stop the War on Coal Act of 2012, which would “stop President Obama’s EPA from using the Clean Air Act to impose costly greenhouse gas regulations that would burden large sectors of the economy,” according to a statement by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The coal industry was hit hard in December by the EPA’s decision to finalize the mercury and air toxics standard, or Utility MACT rule. The standard imposes a mercury emissions limit for the first time on coal-fueled power plants.
The industry is also fighting the proposed first-ever carbon-emissions standards for new coal-fired power plants.
The Romney campaign released an ad Wednesday taking aim at President Obama’s coal policies. A miner in the television spot says, “Obama’s ruining the coal industry.”
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is shown asking a group of miners, “We have 250 years of coal, why wouldn’t we use it?”
The ad can be viewed below: