How EPA Rules Would Hit Coal-Heavy West Virginia
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
In West Virginia, coal is big industry. James Van Nostrand has analyzed ways the state could meet the requirements of the Clean Power Plan. He studies energy and development issues at West Virginia University.
JAMES VAN NOSTRAND: We generate about 96 percent of our electricity from coal, so this is a coal-dependent state in terms of where we get our electricity from. And we're also an extraction state, so a lot of the jobs in this state are connected with the coal industry, both the mining and the processing and production of coal.
BLOCK: So it's an economy that basically runs on coal. It's the second-biggest coal-producing state after Wyoming?
VAN NOSTRAND: Correct. And that's one of the reasons that we wanted to take a serious look at the clean power plan 'cause West Virginia, as one of the coal-dependent states is going to be hit disproportionately hard by efforts to address climate change.
BLOCK: Well, let's talk about that. How big of a challenge would it be for West Virginia to comply with the Clean Power Plan since it is a state that's so heavily dependent on coal?
VAN NOSTRAND: We have a number of things going for us. You know, we have the fortune of sitting on top of the Marcellus Shale, so we have tremendous ability to transition to natural gas and potentially co-fire natural gas with coal. We also have a lot of renewable energy portfolio in the state, with wind already and the potential for more solar, and possibly a great untapped resource of energy efficiency. We rank fairly low in terms of how this state is doing with respect to energy efficiency resources, and that is one way that the state could comply with the Clean Power Plan by having the utilities ramp up their energy efficiency programs.
BLOCK: And what would those energy efficiency programs look like? What does that mean?
VAN NOSTRAND: It basically encourages customers to take actions in their homes to reduce energy usage. It can take the form of rebates. If you install a high-efficiency heat pump or a high-efficiency furnace, the utility would give you a rebate to encourage you to make those investments in equipment that's going to reduce energy usage. Basically, things that will reduce electricity use over time.
BLOCK: How disruptive do you anticipate that a major change in the energy mix in West Virginia would be to jobs and to the economy?
VAN NOSTRAND: It could be potentially very disruptive. I think one of the positive moves in moving from the proposed rule to the final rule is allowing a couple more years for states to file implementation plans before the rule actually takes effect. So I think there is a recognition. EPA was listening during the comment period, and I think they did take some steps to ease the transition. And as I mentioned before, we are sitting on top of the Marcellus Shale so there is an ability to transition and take advantage of the state's extensive natural gas resources and possibly blending natural gas to fire with coal. And energy efficiency is a relatively untapped resource. There's jobs associated with providing energy efficiency services. I mean, I think the coal industry would point out, well, those jobs don't pay as well as the mining jobs. And that's definitely true. So there are some serious transition issues, and I think that's one of the challenges is for our leaders to think about those transition issues and whether we're going to spend resources continuing to resist and challenge the EPA rules, or whether we're going to start our way down this transition that's going to have to happen.
BLOCK: In the end, can you imagine a West Virginia that is not anywhere near as dependent on coal as it is right now?
VAN NOSTRAND: I think our dependence will decline. I mean, I think all - the scenarios that we ran in our report show that we're still going to be probably dependent 75 percent on coal. So I think coal and the extraction industry are still going to play a prominent role in the state's economy, and I think going forward, coal is still going to generate nearly a third of the nation's electricity. So I think we're going to still continue to be a state that's very heavily reliant on the coal industry and the extraction industry. But I think that reliance is going to have to - it has to change. We're going to need more of an all-of-the-above energy strategy that looks at natural gas, that looks at renewables and that looks at energy efficiency as well.
BLOCK: Professor Van Nostrand, thanks for talking with us.
VAN NOSTRAND: My pleasure, thank you, Melissa.
BLOCK: That's James Van Nostrand. He directs the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at the University of West Virginia College of Law. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.