CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia would have to cut carbon dioxide emissions by about 20 percent by 2030 under a new federal rule, sparking outcry in a state powered by coal and defined by mining.
Government leaders, who said Monday they are still digesting the rule's finer details, vowed to fight it. They blasted the rule targeting coal-fired power plants as a job killer for miners. They said citizens would absorb higher electricity costs.
Flanked by stakeholders and officials in both parties, Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said no coal plants in the state would currently meet the new mark. Only one plant is even close. His administration wants to work with other states to parse options.
The Environmental Protection Agency rule isn't a requirement for each coal plant. Instead, it applies as an average rate across the state's total energy production. It aims to drop emissions by 30 percent nationally by 2030, compared to 2005.
"These proposals appear to realize some of our worst fears," Tomblin said. "The bottom line is the only way to comply with these rules will be to use less West Virginia coal."
Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he would take all legal actions necessary to fight the rule, which is still not finalized.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall said it would eliminate half of the state's coal production.
West Virginia draws 96 percent of its electricity from coal, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It also produces the second-most coal in the country, though the industry has waned in recent years.
The rule is central to President Barack Obama's plans to reduce pollution tied to global warming. Emission goals vary state by state, and states have flexibility in planning how to meet their marks.
States must submit individual plans to comply by June 2017, or by June 2018 if they work with other states.
West Virginia would need to reduce emissions by 19.8 percent by 2030, compared to 2012.
However, coal combustion technology isn't good enough to meet that mark, said state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman.
"It's going to require a significant reduction in the combustion of coal, and a replacement of that by some other energy source," Huffman said.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller offered a dissenting view focusing on the threat of climate change and pollution.
"West Virginians have never walked away from a challenge, and I know together we can create a future that protects our health, creates jobs, and maintains coal as a core part of our energy supply," Rockefeller said in a news release Monday.
Two companies running major West Virginia power plants, American Electric Power and FirstEnergy, said it's too early to determine impacts.
FirstEnergy expects a 25 percent emissions reduction below 2005 levels by 2015 due to plant retirements and efficiencies, said spokeswoman Stephanie Walton.
American Electric Power, which runs Appalachian Power covering West Virginia, is retiring more than one-fourth of its coal-fueled power plants in the next few years, said spokeswoman Tammy Ridout. The company has spent $10 billion in emission controls on remaining plants.
Environmental interests applauded the rule as overdue in coal country.
"Appalachia has traditionally borne the brunt of the damage from the nation's coal-dependent economy and is suffering the health impacts and environmental and economic devastation of mountaintop removal coal mining and related industrial practices," said Appalachian Voices executive director Tom Cormons.
Gilbert Rhodes doesn't like what Monday's announcement might do for his job-hunting prospects.
Rhodes, a 40-year-old resident of St. Albans, has been laid off in the coal mining industry for about a year. He last worked in Alabama building a drag line because he couldn't find work in West Virginia. And he still hasn't found it in his home state.
"I've been putting applications in at them, but they just ain't doing no hiring," Rhodes said Monday. "Everybody's kind of like on hold right now."
John Raby in Charleston contributed to this report.