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No silver lining viewed in EPA ruling

CHARLESTON – It is refreshing to read in a Charleston newspaper that West Virginia is already closer to reaching new federal carbon dioxide emissions standards than almost every other state in the nation.  But both state and private coal company officials see no silver lining in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to let West Virginia continue to emit carbon at one of the highest rates in the nation.

Secretary Randy Huffman of the state Department of Environmental Protection said bluntly that “the fact everyone else is going to be as miserable as we are .. I don’t think is a relative comparison, that doesn’t do anything to resolve the governor’s concerns about the economic impact of this.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said changes outlined in this new EPA Clean Power Plan “appear to realize some of our worst fears.”  And many others in both political parties have the same concerns, attacking President Barack Obama and the administration for a so-called “job-killing initiative.”

However, the EPA believes the new policy could – the emphasis here is on “could” – result in a 30 percent reduction of the nation’s carbon emissions by 2030, using 2005 rates as the benchmark. EPA officials claim this will mean “more jobs, not less, in construction, transmission, clean energy and more.”

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said this plan “isn’t about shutting things down – it’s about building things up.  The clean energy revolution is already happening.” And EPA data indicates that West Virginia only needs to cut its emission rate about 20 percent by 2030. But the state’s DEP date suggests the cut could be closer to 15 percent.

Only seven other states in the nation are looking at smaller emission cuts. Most states need to cut emissions somewhere from 30 to 50 percent to meet the 2030 state-specific goals. States with smaller cuts, like West Virginia, already have high carbon emissions and let the nation in coal or natural gas production.  Other coal-producing states like Kentucky and Wyoming along with natural gas hotbed North Dakota have some of the highest current carbon emission rates and some of the lowest proposed cuts in the new EPA policy.

“We realize that every state is a different place,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told Bloomberg News last week.  “And so that’s why states like Connecticut that have done a lot will tell you there’s more they can do. States like West Virginia don’t.”

If EPA’s plan is followed to the letter, West Virginia will have the nation’s fifth highest carbon emission rate in 2030. Bill Price, a member of the Sierra Club in this state, said the changes are still a step in the right direction, i.e. “a significant reduction.”

“No one is looking to drive people out of work, but we do have to recognize this is going to require a transition to energy efficiency and renewable energy and away from our over-dependence on coal as an energy source.”

MEANWHILE, while Marshall University and West Virginia University may continue to compete on the playing field, the presidents of the state’s two largest universities made it clear during a meeting in Huntington last week that they plan to collaborate to help each of the two campuses cope with continued budget cuts to higher education in the state.

Marshall President Stephen Kopp said that one of the “first conversations” that he and WVU President E. Gordon Gee had was that “he and I both realizes that if our universities are going to work together, it has to be at the highest level.”

The reasons are simple. The state of West Virginia now spends 22 percent less on higher education than it did before the 2008 recession. A report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also reported last month that West Virginia is one of eight states that continues to make cutes to higher education despite a national economy that is recovering.

Marshall and WVU absorbed the brunt of more than $3 million in funding reductions at state colleges and universities this past year , losing $500,000 and $1.1 million respectively.  So Kopp is concentrating on finding a sustainable source of income.  He told the Charleston Daily Mail recently that he intends to “steer the school toward financial independence” thus ending its reliance on government appropriations.

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