NOT IN MY TOWN: U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith is speaking out against the Obama administration for the new EPA regulations that he says will hurt his district and the whole commonwealth.
By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — New regulations hailing from the ivory tower at the EPA in Washington, D.C., could mean devastating consequences for already hard-hit Southwestern Virginia.
It could mention higher electric bills for Virginians everywhere, too.
The EPA demands states reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, an edict that could mean annual GDP losses in the millions, job losses in the thousands and higher household utility bills each year by hundreds of dollars in Virginia alone, according to a report issued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Coal country in Southwest Virginia, which already has some of the highest unemployment figures in the state, will feel the fallout most directly. The ripple effect, however, will be felt around the commonwealth.
“The proposed emissions targets cannot realistically be met without forcing substantial closures of existing plants and taking major energy options off the table in the U.S.,” said Barry DuVal, president and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
“The resulting impacts on Virginia jobs and the economy could be devastating. In addition, the EPA’s regulations will cause substantial reliability concerns and will ensure higher electricity prices, resulting in a heavy toll on the economy, manufacturing, small businesses and families.”
Republican lawmakers are up in arms, too.
“We’re the canary in the mineshaft,” said U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, whose district encompasses the state’s largest mines.
“This administration’s war on coal is an attack on the middle class and the working poor who won’t be able to afford to heat their homes. This president doesn’t care about the people of central Appalachia,” said the Abingdon Republican who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
It’s hard to say yet how much Virginians’ electric bills will soar, said John Craynon, project director for Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Science at Virginia Polytechnic University.
But one thing is certain.
“It will affect everyone’s utility bill,” Craynon said. “The magnitude of that remains to be seen. What I’ve seen in preliminary guesses may be double or triple. That would be consistent with the chances California implemented a decade ago. That’s a big change.”
Over the past few years small business owners have consistently rated energy costs among their top three concerns, said Nicole Riley, state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses. The new regulations will only add to that burden.
“We have members who are in the industry and they’re going to see the impacts pretty soon,” Riley said. “If we’re going to try to support an economic environment that supports small businesses and creates jobs, we need to expand our sources of energy, not restrict them.”
Those costs eventually have to be passed on to the consumer.
“As a consumer, when you’re purchasing goods and products from a small business that has seen their prices increase, there are only a few places that a small business owner can go,” Riley said. “They can either absorb the costs internally, or they pass them on to their customer, which is obviously not their first choice, but sometimes that’s the only choice that’s left for them.
“I think that’s probably the biggest concern our members have seen out of this current administration, is there isn’t a whole lot of consideration for the consequences that are going to come with different rules and regulations that are proposed and put into place,” Riley said.
State Delegate Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol, said Southwest Virginia’s public education system will feel the ripple.
“The schools depend on (mining) severance taxes,” O’Quinn said of districts in the state’s five largest coal-producing counties.
Virginia lawmakers have already expressed their distaste for the new regulations. Eighty-five members sent a letter to President Obama in January urging him to derail the EPA regulations.
Obviously, that didn’t work.
Neighboring West Virginia, which relies on coal for three-quarters of its energy, has already announced it will fight the new regs. In Virginia, which relies on coal for one-quarter of its energy, mum’s the word from Democratic leaders … so far.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who is up for re-election this fall, said he will not comment on the EPA plan until a 120-day public comment period ends. Kaine expressed mild support for the regulations Monday. Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office did not answer a request for comment.
Griffith said the region’s best — perhaps only — hope for overturning the coal rules is for Republicans, united in opposition, to win back control of the Senate while holding the House.
“The important thing to know about (the EPA regulations) is that consumers will pay — not the power companies,” he told Watchdog.
Kenric Ward and Kaitlyn Speer contributed to this story. Kathryn Watson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @kathrynw5.