A little more than a year ago, Bo Copley lost his job working as a maintenance planner for a West Virginia coal company.
The reason: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, he told federal lawmakers.
“Just slightly over 1 year ago, I was notified that my services were no longer required, due to a reduction in force,” Copley told senators at a Wednesday field hearing in West Virginia.
“Although we were told that we shouldn’t have to reduce our workforce before the beginning of 2016, we should have known that we wouldn’t make it that long without one,” he said. “Our company was the only one in Arch that had not experienced such a reduction.”
“Every Monday during our weekly safety meetings, we were told how increasingly difficult it was becoming to acquire mining permits due to EPA regulations,” he said. “Weekly, we were told how fortunate we were to not have our pay cut, and how fortunate we were to be working, in general.”
Copley’s fortunes ran out about a year ago when he was let go, but he wasn’t alone. More than 12,000 coal miners have been let go in the last year, according to federal employment statistics.
In fact, tens of thousands more of power plant, mine and support workers have lost their jobs in the last eight years as the coal industry contracts. Those who have been let go put the blame squarely on EPA.
“From large companies like Walker Machinery to smaller, locally owned companies like Guyan Heavy Equipment, every vendor that is related to our industry has taken their share of loss due to this administration’s EPA overreach,” Copley said in the hearing.
“For every coal mining job lost there are countless more that are also affected,” he added. “Heavy equipment vendors face the hardship of trying keep people working versus making a profit.”
“School administrators face decreased funding because their enrollments have dropped due to people moving to find work,” he said. “Many small business owners, just like my wife, see a decline in their business because people don’t have the extra money to pay for things outside their basic needs. Our entire state feels the ramifications of a targeted industry.”
Copley was one of several witnesses to testify at a field hearing convened by West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito to highlight the costs of EPA regulations on her state’s economy.
Costlier EPA regulations, coupled with increased competition from cheap natural gas, has forced hundreds of coal-fired power plants to prematurely retire. The coal industry sees the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan (CPP) as the biggest threat to its future.
The CPP requires states to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, and mandates new power plants use expensive, largely unproven emissions control technology to operate.
EPA says the CPP is necessary for the U.S. to show “leadership” on tackling global warming, but Appalachian lawmakers and businesses say its strangling their coal-reliant economy.
Environmentalists have done their part to damage the coal industry as well — the Sierra Club, for example, has claimed credit for helping shutter 200 coal-fired power plants.
The CPP’s future is currently being decided by federal judges who recently heard oral arguments from EPA officials and a coalition of 27 states suing to have the rule struck down.
No matter the outcome, both sides are likely to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
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