By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
ABINGDON – Three days after the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency announced tough new clean-air regulations, Republicans from Virginia coal country mocked Terry McAuliffe’s failure to take a stand on the subject.
Accusing the Democratic gubernatorial candidate of “not understanding” the financial stakes involved, Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Abingdon, said the federal regs would have a “decimating impact” on the state’s coal industry.
McAuliffe, through spokesman Josh Schwerin, did not respond to Watchdog’s questions Monday afternoon. McAuliffe told a gaggle of reporters on Friday, “We’ll begin to look at (the rules) immediately. We want to get the experts in and all of us look at them together and make that decision.”
During his 2009 run for governor, McAuliffe declared, “We have got to move past coal. As governor, I never want another coal plant built.”
This year, McAuliffe has at least 900,000 reasons to oppose coal, with San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer spending $900,000 to help the Democrat get elected, according to the Washington Post.
On the other hand, Griffith and state Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, pointed out the coal industry directly and indirectly supports 45,210 jobs in Virginia.
Those coal jobs, according to the National Mining Association, contributed $3.4 billion in wages to Virginia workers in 2011.
Chmura Economics & Analytics calculates the annual average wage in the coal industry in southwest Virginia is more than twice the average for all industries: $84,978 vs. $34,757.
Griffith, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the EPA edict limiting new coal-burning power plants to 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour of carbon dioxide emissions is not financially feasible — effectively halting future construction.
“The required carbon-capture technology isn’t even remotely there,” noted Daren Bakst, a research fellow at the market-oriented Heritage Foundation.
Stricter EPA rules are planned for existing coal-fired plants, as well.
Meantime, Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Pat Mullins drew a distinction between McAuliffe and GOP nominee Ken Cuccinelli.
“Unlike Ken Cuccinelli, who has certainly not been shy about fighting overzealous government regulation, Terry McAuliffe is demonstrating that he will not fight for Virginia’s coal communities or to keep electricity affordable for middle class families,” Mullins said.
Complicating the political calculus for McAuliffe, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — a stalwart contributor to Democratic candidates — on Monday strongly opposed the new EPA standards, saying the rules will retard job growth and U.S. energy independence while raising electricity costs.
Coal-fired power plants produce about 40 percent of the country’s electricity. And Norfolk is the nation’s largest coal-shipping port.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward