EPA regulations have taken coal ‘out of the picture’ says top utility

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

The head of one of the nation’s top electrical utilities says Environmental Protection Agency regulations have taken coal “out of the picture.”

“We see the future for us being natural gas, energy efficiency, smart-grid activities and renewables,” said Nick Akins, CEO of American Electric Power, adding that coal had been “taken out of the picture” for generating electricity due to EPA air and global warming regulations.

Akins added that AEP will retire older coal-fired power plants making up 25 percent of its generation capacity by 2015. High compliance costs from current and pending EPA regulations have forced companies to close older plants in the coming years.

“That’s a significant challenge,” Akins said, “but it’s something we’re focused on so we can replace if with other forms of energy.”

Recently, AEP announced it was closing its massive Muskingum River Power Plant in 2015. The plant’s closing will have huge local effects on employment and local government funding. Two school districts in the area depend on revenues from the coal plant and school district officials say they could lose 10 percent of their revenues.

“It will only take one boiler project or one window replacement project at one of our schools to wipe out over half of that account.” said Fort Frye Superintendent Stephanie Starcher. “So the question becomes how are we going to do permanent improvements?”

Communities all over coal country have been feeling the strain as coal plants and coal mines are shut down from stricter federal environmental rules and increased competition from natural gas.

Last month, the James River Coal company laid off 525 workers at several coal mines in eastern Kentucky. The eastern part of the state has lost 6,200 coal jobs in the last two years, which Republicans and the coal industry have blamed on EPA regulations.

“Deliberate anti-coal energy policies are sending thousands of families in my region to the unemployment line. I’ve talked to out of work miners struggling to put food on the table, find replacement work, and pay their bills,” said Kentucky Republican Rep. Hal Rogers.

Kentucky as a whole has lost thousands of coal jobs in the last few years. The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet reported that coal mining jobs reached their lowest since 1927.

“The president’s war-on-coal agenda is killing Kentucky jobs, as is evident from the closing of these mines in Eastern Kentucky,” said Moira Bagley, spokeswoman for Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul. “The onerous EPA regulations on the coal industry are cutting off the lifeblood of thousands of Kentucky families.”

However, the Obama administration has repeatedly denied using agencies like the EPA to wage a “war on coal.”

The president “expects fossil fuels, and coal specifically, to remain a significant contributor for some time,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told Reuters. It is “all about having, in fact, coal as part of that future. I don’t believe it is a ‘war on coal.’”

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