CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Tuesday he is taking steps to submit a plan to comply with federal carbon emission standards on coal-fired power plants, echoing guidance from the nation's largest miners' union earlier in the day.
The two parties staked their position even as the state and the United Mine Workers of America challenge the federal emissions requirements in court.
In a news release Tuesday, the Democratic governor said until a legal decision is made, the state can't afford to ignore the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule, which aims to stem global warming. The requirement has drawn opposition from many West Virginia politicians in both major parties, including Tomblin.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has previously called on states to refuse to send in plans to comply, with just a handful of governors making the pledge.
Any state plan that Tomblin's administration crafts still must get the approval of the Republican-led Legislature.
"If we can demonstrate that we put a lot of time and effort into developing a plan for West Virginia, we may have a better chance of lessening the harmful impacts these regulations could have on our miners, their families and communities," Tomblin said.
Union President Cecil Roberts added that the state should ask for a two-year extension to September 2018 to send in its plan. Robert's remarks came Tuesday at the Governor's Energy Summit at Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, West Virginia.
Tomblin and Roberts both mentioned that if states don't submit their own plans, they will be stuck with a federal plan created by the EPA.
"In essence, they won't care if we just say no or not," Roberts said. "They will still get what they want, and it may in fact be even worse for coal than if we had developed a (state plan)."
An extension would give time for a multistate legal challenge against the carbon standards to wind through the courts, Roberts said.
In West Virginia, the coal industry is struggling to persevere amid cheaper natural gas energy production, thinning coal seams in the southern part of the state, competition from other coal producing regions, lousy coal markets, and regulations.
Roberts said West Virginia should plan to build new power plants co-fired by coal and natural gas that can meet emissions standards. He said a state law passed two decades ago allows for public bond financing and public-private partnerships to build new power plants.
Tomblin's administration said he supports using the state's coal and natural gas resources at home, and wants to hear how to pay for and operate the project.
Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, said the Legislature is keeping "all options open" on how to react to whatever state plan it is dealt. After last election, the GOP in West Virginia was able to flip the Legislature for the first time in more than eight decades largely by criticizing President Barack Obama and his energy policies.
"The Legislature will do everything it can to fully protect the interests of our state and its coal miners," Cole said in a statement.