PERRY/Coal rules bad for state
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 1:00 AM
I was born in Kentucky, coal country. Well, not really. I was born in Western Kentucky which is as removed from coal country as Pascagoula is from the Mississippi Delta. But I like songs about coal miners. And I like affordable energy.
About 15 percent of electricity generated in Mississippi comes from coal burning plants, according to the Energy Information Administration's 2013 data. We have one surface coal mine in Choctaw County that powers the Red Hills Power Plant. A second lignite coal mine will provide fuel for Mississippi Power's Kemper County plant which will gasify the lignite into synthetic natural gas.
Other than the battles over Kemper, Mississippi has not been vocal in the political coal wars. But that is changing.
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a regulation this week to cut carbon dioxide emissions in Mississippi by 38 percent more than 2005 levels. This is a critical plank in President Barack Obama's environmental policy - a plan which he famously said would necessarily cause utility rates to skyrocket.
The EPA proposal is being opposed by Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley. Presley, the lone Democrat on the three person commission, is no secret Republican. He is a true populist Democrat, but opposes Obama's plan which he calls a "misguided notion that will do two things: raise electricity rates in Mississippi and cost us American jobs."
On Tuesday, Presley made a motion passed unanimously by the PSC to have the staff engage in the rule making process and participate in the commenting process to oppose any mandate that cost customers money.
"Nobody is against clean air and clean water," Presley said, "But this doesn't make economic sense. I oppose any measure and unfunded federal mandate that will raise customers' bills. We're charged to guard the customer's interests and we'll make sure our voice is heard."
Last year, Presley sponsored a resolution by the Southeastern Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners to urge the EPA "to recognize the primacy of States, in developing any emission guidelines for regulating [greenhouse gas emissions] from existing power plants."
That year Presley called the EPA's potential rules "wild-eyed regulation...aimed at raising your electric bills." He said, "I am prepared to vote to file a lawsuit against such a crazy idea as the one proposed by the EPA. The crony capitalism of this federal proposal will only favor the EPA's pet projects while selling traditional power plants and their workers down the river...It seems to me that the EPA is determined to drive up electricity costs while killing American jobs."
Presley is correct. Everyone wants a clean environment. Everyone wants prosperity: jobs, affordable electricity. There are ways to have both. But President Obama's war on coal is giving us neither.
A few years ago I spoke with a consultant to a major West Virginia coal mining company and asked him about their plans to remain viable under the policies proposed by President Obama. He said, "We're planning on buying ships." He elaborated that they mine coal, there is plenty of coal there, they prefer American customers but if the federal government's regulations drive coal-fired plants out of the market, they'll start shipping coal to China.
This is where things get really disastrous for the economy and the environment. Our electricity costs more; China's electricity costs less. Major energy consumers like steel plants can't compete with steel plants overseas (even after shipping costs). We lose steel jobs; China gains steel jobs and then exports steel to us. Meanwhile, China's environmental regulations means more pollution, some of which we eventually receive on our West Coast anyway due to the jet stream.
Our power bills go up. Our jobs go overseas. We're buying inferior products. And the environment is worse off than before. From a global perspective - and an American prosperity perspective - it is better for the environment for the U.S. to burn coal than ship it to China or India or other energy hungry countries because of our domestic environmental safeguards.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposes these regulations as well. A report they issued suggests as a result of these new EPA rules, the East South Central Region (Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi) could lose 21,000 jobs and a $2.2 billion economic loss every year through 2030. Over the next fifteen years, electricity costs nationwide could increase by $289 billion; 224,000 jobs lost; $480 billion in compliance costs by electricity providers (paid for by consumers and shareholders).
American energy production has changed drastically since Loretta Lynn sang about Butcher Holler. Workers' safety has improved; generation plants are cleaner; and take a walk around the mine in Choctaw County and view the reclamation efforts to see a greater respect for the environment.
We need a green policy - for the environment and the economy - but the EPA's new rules miss both marks.
Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.