CHARLESTON — President Trump championed his support for West Virginia’s coal industry hours after his Environmental Protection Agency proposed relaxing carbon emissions limits on power plants.
Before a cheering crowd at the Charleston Civic Center, Trump said the proposal “will help our coal-fired power plants and save everybody billions and billions of dollars.”
Much of what’s to come on Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy proposal remains to be seen as it moves toward a comment period, regulatory review and legal challenges.
Its unveiling was the biggest policy news of the day for the Trump administration, although the president just briefly touched on it.
The president spoke about an array of issues over 90 minutes, including immigration and his longstanding proposal for a wall along the border with Mexico, international trade and tariffs, the role of NATO and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
His discussion of the economy, particularly coal, hit closest to home with the crowd of West Virginians, whom he vowed to help the last time he visited Charleston, in the heat of the 2016 Republican primary.
“We are back. The coal industry is back,” Trump said Tuesday.
The federal Bureau for Labor Statistics shows growth in national coal employment over the past year – now at 53,000 jobs compared to 52,000 this time last year. That’s significantly down from a decade ago when there were 86,000 coal jobs.
Still, coal industry leaders sound thankful for stability.
Trump’s speech momentarily landed on the proposal rolled out by the EPA earlier Tuesday. He described energy sources like wind mills and solar panels as fragile.
“You can do a lot of things with those solar panels,” he said. “But you know what you can’t hurt? Coal.”
The EPA’s announcement described the emissions proposal as keeping with Trump’s energy goals.
“Today’s proposal provides the states and regulated community the certainty they need to continue environmental progress while fulfilling President Trump’s goal of energy dominance,” stated Andrew Wheeler, the EPA’s acting administrator.
The rule would replace the 2015 Clean Power Plan, which was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court and has never taken effect.
The fights that have taken place over the Clean Air Act may be mirrored by legal battles over the new Affordable Clean Energy proposal.
Many questions were already arising, including legal challenges, whether future administrations would embrace the proposal, how much such a plan would actually affect coal markets in the face of competition from natural gas and what affect there would be on decisions by power companies as they make long-term decisions about their infrastructure.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, whose candidacy for U.S. Senate was another focal point of the Trump visit, praised the rollback on regulations.
“The EPA’s proposal represents a crucial step in restoring law and order,” stated Morrisey, a Republican whose office challenged the Clean Power Plan in federal court.
“The Affordable Clean Energy rule makes important strides in reversing the Obama-era Power Plan. Our coalition will closely examine the proposal and continue to support President Trump’s administration in implementing this important change to protect West Virginia coal miners and those who depend upon their success.”
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, who faces a November challenge from Morrisey, also criticized the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, called the latest EPA announcement a step in the right direction.
“I support it 1,000 percent,” Manchin said on MetroNews “Talkline.”
He described longstanding concerns about the Clean Power Plan.
“Obama overreached,” said Manchin, D-W.Va. “Obama overreached. Obama and I fell out over this. I believe in an all-in energy policy.
“I agree with where the president’s going on this, and he knows that.”
The Obama administration introduced the Clean Power Plan in response to requirements of the Clean Air Act, the main federal air pollution law.
The new plan would allow states to determine which technologies are appropriate for each plant and establish a standard of performance reflecting the degree of emission reduction.
The EPA will take comment on the proposal for 60 days. Legal challenges are likely, just as they were for the Clean Power Plan. There’s also the possibility that future administrations would not follow through with the latest emissions proposal.
Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition said it’s hard to trust states making appropriate decisions when it comes to emissions.
“Pollution really doesn’t recognize state boundaries, and we shouldn’t be leaving regulating carbon dioxide emissions and other power plant pollution up to a state like ours,” Stockman said.
“We’ve got a billionaire governor who owns coal mines. We’ve got a history where politicians continually put the interests of coal corporations above the health and safety of our people, be they coal miners or anyone else.”
Stockman said the reaction Trump gets at the rally in Charleston may not match reality.
“Trump is obviously using the coal industry as a political football,” Stockman said. “He’s trying to please his fellow billionaire buddy Governor Jim Justice at the sake of all the rest of us.”
West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney said the plan will give the coal industry the kind of flexibility it has been requesting for several years.
“If EPA is going to do a new set of regulations that is more keyed to the states and gives them the authority that really is what the Clean Air Act is all about, that would be good to get us on another track that hopefully will establish some reasonable compliance,” Raney said.
Gov. Justice issued a statement supporting the EPA’s changes:
“President Trump has followed through on his promise to get rid of the Clean Power Plan and use American energy to fuel economic growth.
“The ACE rule will help West Virginia big time and will bring back energy jobs like you can’t imagine. To have this announcement on the day President Trump visits West Virginia for the sixth time is just incredible.”