McConnell looking to thwart the EPA's incoming coal plant restrictions?

There’s no question that the coal industry has been dealing with some very stiff competition from natural gas, which is now just about tied with coal for the country’s biggest electricity source when coal used to be the top dog just a few short years ago. Energy companies are increasingly incorporating the profitable and relatively cleaner fuel source — but the Obama administration would very much like to both accelerate and take credit for the free-market phenomenon. By throwing natural and healthy free-market processes under the bus and forcefully inducing this transition to the degree that they see fit, they can commandeer the achievement of decreased carbon emissions for their own and legitimize President Obama’s climate plans — the jobs that are squashed in the meantime be damned.

That’s why the EPA is shortly introducing their new regulations to effectively make it impossible for companies to construct new coal plans without adding prohibitively expensive carbon control equipment to meet required emissions standards; natural gas plants are expected to easily make the cut, but new coal-plant projects will largely be out of luck. This is really just the preview act, however, as the EPA intends to go even bigger by introducing plans next year that will force existing coal plants to retrofit to meet stricter standards, too. Their proposed timeline is to have those rules finalized by June of 2015, and that will mean a lot more coal plants shutting down in due time.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell home state of Kentucky has a huge coal contingent, and he’s pushing a bill that would block the EPA from their aggressive central planning maneuvers. Could be a smooth political move, too, if it forces some Democrats vulnerable on the issue to contend with their home state’s coal interests on taking a stand against President Obama’s plan:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has floated new legislation that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing carbon pollution standards for power plants.

The bill also seeks to speed up permitting for coal mining projects and limit the scope of Clean Water Act rules. The measure from McConnell, who hails from a major coal producing state and faces reelection next year, is titled the “Save Coal Jobs Act of 2013.”

“He very much wants a vote on it,” an aide said of the bill introduced Tuesday.

The bill takes particular aim at EPA plans to craft carbon emissions standards for the nation’s fleet of existing power plants, which are due to be proposed next year.

Then again, several Democrats might be plenty happy to take the chance to say they stood up to the administration’s crushing rules (perhaps knowing full well that Obama would never sign such a bill even if it made it to the president’s desk). West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, for instance, unloaded on the Obama administration at a Hill hearing on Tuesday: “There has been nothing more beat up than coal. … They just beat the living daylights out of little West Virginia, but they sure like what we produce. We could do it a lot better if we had a government working with us as a partner.”

Regardless, in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, the coal industry is struggling, and McConnell claims it’s at least partially because of the very onerous threat of the incoming regulations, via the Daily Caller:

The James River Coal company announced Tuesday it is closing several mines in eastern Kentucky and laying off 525 employees. …

“Over 500 Kentuckians are now wondering how they’re going to feed their family and pay their bills, as a result of another shutdown at Kentucky coal mines,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, another Kentucky Republican. “The President is leading a war on coal and what that really means for Kentucky families is a war on jobs.”

James River Coal announced that it will be shuttering mines in eastern Kentucky due to “continued weakness in the domestic and international coal markets.” Mines in eastern Kentucky have been hit particularly hard by EPA regulations as well as increased competition from low priced natural gas — a fuel that is quickly replacing coal for electricity generation.

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David Strom 3:21 PM on March 24, 2023