New EPA regulations will hurt families

Charles Steele Contributor
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I had the privilege of testifying yesterday here in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) public hearing on their proposed coal ash regulations.

I wasn’t surprised to see hundreds of activists and ordinary citizens on both sides of the issue attend and voice their support or concerns to the EPA. The EPA’s planned regulations of coal ash, greenhouse gases, and other substances—set to begin in January—will impact all sectors of the economy and, in turn, all income levels.

In my testimony, I explained how the EPA’s planned regulations on coal fly ash will raise energy costs, especially for the Southeast and minority families, and deter the use of some sources of renewable energy in many parts of the country.

I urge the EPA to reconsider their costly plans.

The EPA’s plans—ranging in this case from classifying coal ash as hazardous to shutting down boilers used to heat and power buildings all across the country to not exempting carbon-neutral woody biomass from regulations—will raise energy costs across the board. As energy companies and other so-called “emitters” are forced to comply with the regulations, energy costs will increase, and the increase will be passed on to consumers. In addition, as businesses’ energy bills increase, too, they will be forced to cut jobs or close.

The regulations will have a disproportionate impact on the Southeast and minorities. Approximately half of the country relies on coal, including much of the Southeast as well as states like Ohio and West Virginia, which continue to suffer high unemployment. These states will see their energy bills increase the most, if the coal plants don’t shut down altogether. They will not only see energy cost and reliability issues, but their unemployment rates will likely skyrocket, as well.

The Affordable Power Alliance recently released a study showing the cost impact of the EPA regulations on minority families, who live in these coal-reliant areas of the country. The APA found that, by 2025, the EPA regulations will increase the poverty rate by 20 percent for African-American families and 22 percent for Hispanic families, while decreasing median minority household incomes by as much as $660 per year and leading to hundreds of thousands of jobs lost.

Paradoxically, the EPA’s regulations will also make it difficult for the Southeast and other coal-reliant regions to obtain access to carbon-neutral, renewable energy sources. Inexplicably, while it is proposing regulations that would impact the coal power produced in this country, the EPA also plans to regulate emissions from woody biomass—a renewable energy source that has long been considered carbon neutral by both the EPA and scientists—the same way it regulates emissions from fossil fuels. By treating woody biomass plants the same way it treats other big emitters, the EPA will deter states from building these plants, even though woody biomass is one of the more affordable and readily available sources of renewable energy we can grow and produce right here in our country.

Many states in the Southeast do not have access to wind and solar energy, especially not affordable wind and solar energy, and now the only real renewable power source we do have—biomass—will be unavailable too, as a result of the EPA’s proposed regulations. How are Southern states supposed to get affordable and reliable power if both coal and renewable sources like woody biomass become too costly to produce?

I doubt the EPA intended for these costly consequences to result from its regulations. However, now that we are learning how these regulations will impact the cost and reliability of our energy sources, the EPA should take a step back and reconsider their plans.

If they don’t reconsider, the EPA will be punishing Americans—especially in the South—just as we are beginning to see the light at the end of the recession’s tunnel.

Dr. Charles Steele Jr. founded Working People for Fair Energy, a non-profit organization devoted to fighting for energy laws that are fair and affordable to working people and low-income families. He has served in the Alabama state Senate, and re-elected three times before resigning to become president of the SCLC in November 2004. He has been inducted into the Martin Luther King, Jr. Board of Preachers of Morehouse College and the Tuscaloosa Civic Hall of Fame.