Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) today delivered a "frank, honest message" to the industry that he counts as a vital political ally: His bid to delay U.S. EPA emissions limits won't work if cleaner-burning coal does not move closer to reality.
In a speech to the West Virginia Coal Association, Rockefeller urged coal companies and miners to use the rise of natural-gas fuel and the White House's greenhouse gas rules as a spur for greater technological advancement that can help the industry keep pace with change.
While the demise of the cap-and-trade climate bill "was a short-term political win," he warned, it will not stop other energy sectors from insisting on energy policy reform aimed at putting a price on carbon or increasing reliance on renewable sources.
The unraveling of climate legislation in the Senate last year "bought us time, not certainty, and my view is that we better use it wisely," Rockefeller said. "Major changes to our energy and climate policies are by no means off the table, and broader economic forces in energy industry are starting to eclipse the policy."
The West Virginian is moving quickly to renew his legislative bid for a two-year delay in the EPA emissions regulations for power plants, refineries and other stationary sources that began kicking in last month. But Rockefeller counseled his coal-country friends against viewing his political maneuvers as a simple strike against the agency.
"I'm fighting hard to suspend EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions for two years, not for the sake of EPA-bashing, but specifically because we need time to move forward with a major new program on [carbon capture and sequestration], and we need a serious seat at the table for any other proposals on climate change," he said.
Two more draconian proposals floated by congressional Republicans, moving to shutter EPA or revoke its authority to address greenhouse gases, "simply won't work," Rockefeller added. "And I promise you that most of the people in Washington who are pressing those ideas want a fight more than they want a solution."
In some ways, today's speech harks back to an address given by Rockefeller's longtime former colleague, the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), that urged the coal industry to reckon with the practical consequences of a changing climate (E&ENews PM, Dec. 3, 2009).
Yet Byrd's remarks caused a political ripple effect among coal players who questioned whether his criticism of mountaintop-removal mining marked a permanent distancing from an industry that remains part of the West Virginian identity.
Rockefeller's speech, by contrast, did not touch on the environmental debate over mountaintop removal and put him even more strongly on record against the recent EPA decision to retroactively veto a permit for the Spruce No. 1 Mine, a mountaintopping project in Logan County, W.Va. (Greenwire, Jan. 13).
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