Photo by Scott McCloskey American Electric Power still burns coal at the Cardinal Plant in Jefferson County, though the company plans to transition this generator to run on natural gas by 2030.
WHEELING — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey knew Tuesday that before the ink was dry on President Donald Trump’s executive order rolling back the Clean Power Plan, environmentalists who see solar and wind power as the future were preparing for more legal wrangling.
Morrisey led the battle against the plan President Barack Obama and Democrats had hoped would sharply curb carbon dioxide emissions from electricity plants by filing lawsuits against the regulation. He said he remains ready for the challenge anti-coal forces present.
“We are prepared for litigation again from the other side,” Morrisey told The Intelligencer Tuesday after Trump signed the executive order. “We stand by the Trump administration to ensure that any regulations that are promulgated are lawful.”
“This will help us put a permanent end to the Clean Power Plan,” Morrisey said of Trump’s order. “This is a great day for West Virginia and for coal miners.”
The Clean Power Plan required electricity companies in Ohio and West Virginia to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by an average of 37 percent. The easiest and cheapest way for power companies to achieve this was to reduce the burning of coal because of the mineral’s high carbon content.
Officials with the Sierra Club and Earthjustice, both San Francisco-based environmental advocacy groups, vowed the battle against carbon dioxide air pollution will continue.
“The president’s executive order is a ridiculous payback to the coal industry, which is clearly an industry that is on its way out,” Earthjustice attorney Shannon Fisk said. “We will be advocating to maximize energy efficiency and renewable energy as the best options for replacing coal plants, and for providing a just economic transition for coal workers and communities.”
Robert E. Murray, who serves as chairman, president and CEO of Murray Energy Corp. and was in Washington to witness Trump sign his executive order Tuesday, estimated that when including overtime and benefits, the average compensation for one of his coal miners is $90,000 per year.
But those who supported the Clean Power Plan say it would have resulted in up to $45 billion worth of climate and health benefits per year.
“Families are saving money as energy efficiency is prioritized and clean energy comes online. Homeowners have greater energy freedom with rooftop solar. And battery storage is driving innovation and supporting a more reliable energy grid,” Bill Corcoran, a director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said Tuesday.
Still, as California and New York overwhelmingly supported Democrat Hillary Clinton in her efforts against Trump last year, West Virginia voters went deep Republican “red” in reflection of their support for the billionaire businessman, while Ohio also gave its Electoral College votes to Trump.
“If left in place, these regulations would have little positive impact on our climate while continuing to decimate West Virginia’s economy,” U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said. “The president’s action will provide relief to coal communities that have been under a bureaucratic assault from Washington over the last eight years. The nightmare of the war on coal is now officially over.”
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who had joined with Morrisey in challenging the regulations, stated on Twitter, “Thanks @realDonaldTrump for ending the war on coal. It will help #OhioCoal.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, called Tuesday’s move a stand against “President Obama’s left-wing legacy pandering.”
“Today’s executive order directly addresses many of the Obama administration’s efforts to permanently shutter the coal industry and kill fossil fuel-related jobs across the country,” Johnson said.
“Stopping this disastrous plan will preserve America’s coal industry, expand our manufacturing renaissance that is reliant upon affordable energy, and protect American families from unprecedented hikes in their electric bills,” U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., added.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he appreciated Trump acting to overturn “bureaucratic regulations that harm our way of life with no regard for the catastrophic economic impacts they have on West Virginians.”
“Instead of working against us and imposing self-inflicted economic wounds like the last administration, I encourage the new administration to work with us to promote the advanced clean energy technology of the future that we can develop right here in West Virginia,” Manchin added.