Coal is on a roll this week as a federal judge in West Virginia faulted new clean air rules for failing to take into account potential job losses.
The decision sided with the Murray Energy Corp., an Ohio-based coal mining company, over the Environmental Protection Agency. It comes in the wake of a February U.S. Supreme Court decision that halted implementation of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which aimed to cut carbon dioxide pollution from power plants, pending a review by appellate courts.
Judge John Preston Bailey of the Northern District of West Virginia concluded that the EPA’s clean air regulations must include evaluations of potential job losses or employment shifts resulting from regulations drafted in support of the federal Clean Air Act – something that the agency failed to do.
“EPA cannot redefine statutes to avoid complying with them,” Bailey said in the decision. “Nor can EPA render them superfluous or contrary to their original purpose by simply defining them to be.”
The coal company’s chief executive officer applauded the ruling as a victory for both coal miners and those who value low-cost energy.
“We will continue to vigorously pursue this lawsuit, and all of our litigation initiatives, in order to protect the lives and livelihoods of coal miners and their families, to defend the rule of law, and to preserve reliable and low-cost electricity in our country,” said Robert Murray in a prepared statement.
The EPA has yet to indicate if it will appeal the district court decision. “We are reviewing the opinion,” EPA spokeswoman Monica Lee told AMI Newswire in an email.
The National Mining Association also hailed the judge’s decision.
“The court properly rebuked EPA for representing that it sufficed for the agency to merely predict (job) impacts, but it was under no duty to later verify the actual outcomes,” said association chief executive officer Hal Quinn in a prepared statement. “Murray Energy Corp. has performed a great service not only for coal miners but all American workers whose jobs are imperiled by unbalanced regulations imposing great costs with little if any measurable benefit.”
Association spokeswoman Ashley Burke said that while the court ruling may not directly save coal mining jobs, it sends a message to the EPA that the agency cannot ignore the economic effects of its regulations.
“In the case of mercury and air toxics standards (MATS), for example, we know that the EPA’s original estimates underestimated job losses by almost a factor of 10,” Burke told AMI.
A more balanced regulatory approach would recognize the use of advanced coal technologies to replace old coal plants, providing greater efficiency and environmental dividends, she said.
The EPA views the earlier Supreme Court’s decision to stay the Clean Power Plan as one that did not reflect the merits of the regulation.
“The EPA firmly believes the Clean Power Plan will be upheld when the merits are considered because the rule rests on strong scientific and legal foundations,” the agency’s website says. “For states that choose to continue to work to cut carbon pollution from power plants and seek the agency’s guidance and assistance, EPA will continue to provide tools and support.”
The EPA’s recent clean air rules are designed to curb global warming and climate change and reduce deaths from harmful pollutants by 3,600 annually.
Specifically, the Clean Power Plan aims to achieve these goals by replacing higher-polluting coal plants with plants powered by cleaner natural gas and renewable sources such as wind and solar.
Murray portrayed the effects of Obama administration regulations as devastating on a human level.
“At least 411 coal-fired power generating units in America have been closed or identified for closure by the Obama EPA, which is a loss of 101,000 megawatts of lowest-cost electric power available across the country,” Murray said. “Further, tens of thousands of coal miners have been put out of work, and their families are suffering.”
The U.S. Energy Information Administration characterizes recent declines in coal’s share of electricity generation in the United States as primarily the result of market forces resulting from the generation of cheap, domestically produced natural gas, but the National Mining Association challenges that assessment.
Burke pointed to a report by Kings University in Tennessee that concluded natural gas prices had only a modest effect on the decline of coal generation in recent years. Competition from natural gas resulted in a loss of 20 million tons of coal demand before 2013, the study found, while 105 tons of lost coal demand occurred as a result of EPA regulations that took effect after 2012.
“What is a problem is when regulatory policy picks market winners and losers by setting regulatory standards and offering massive subsidies that deliberately favor some industries over others,” Burke said. “Coal is willing to compete against natural gas and wind energy, for example, but should not have to compete against the federal government.”