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What Will New Carbon Rules Really Mean For WV’s Economy?

PHOTO: West Virginians are debating the impact on the economy of new EPA carbon pollution rules. Photo courtesy of the Sierra Club.
PHOTO: West Virginians are debating the impact on the economy of new EPA carbon pollution rules. Photo courtesy of the Sierra Club.
June 3, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Depending on whom you ask, the new Environmental Protection Agency carbon pollution rules will be a new start for the state's economy or will drag it down.

Given reductions that have already have happened, West Virginia's power plants will have to cut the carbon dioxide they put out 20 percent more by 2030.

The EPA stresses states will have great flexibility in how they reach their goals.

To Jim Kotcon, energy committee chair of the Sierra Club's West Virginia chapter, that flexibility means a good chance for the state to make economic changes that are needed anyway, starting with electricity.

"Ways of reducing electricity consumption, switching to alternative fuels,” he explains. “This is not the time to simply be denying that the problem exists, or objecting to the EPA rules without an alternative."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says the new rules will cost $50 billion a year nationwide. But according to federal figures, the new rules will also save the U.S. economy more than $80 billion, in part by saving thousands of people from death because of respiratory illnesses.

The coal industry warns the new regulations would be a devastating blow.

Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, says the state's economy is being sacrificed for tiny reductions in emissions here while pollution from countries such as India and China are rising.

"To the extent global climate change is occurring, I think it is, but it's further subject to debate whether or not the United States of America ought to limit the growth of its economy," he stresses.

The rule's supporters say polluting industries often wildly exaggerate the cost of cleaning up their act.

According to figures cited by the Sierra Club, every dollar spent on clean air compliance since 1970 has actually produced $4 to $8 in increased economic activity.

And although climate change is a global problem, Kotcon says the U.S. can't wait for China or India to act.

"The United States still has by far the highest per capita emissions of any country on earth, and ultimately has the responsibility to lead."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV