MORGANTOWN, WEST VIRGINIA — WVU law professor James Van Nostrand told a U.S. Senate subcommittee on October 5 that the state could benefit economically from the EPA Clean Power Plan.
The plan seeks to curb greenhouse gas emissions from coal-powered utility plants that contribute to global climate change. It is being contested by West Virginia and 23 other states.
Van Nostrand testified at a field hearing of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety in Logan, West Virginia, hosted by Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Congressman Evan Jenkins (R-WV).
“We have the resources and the people to succeed in this new energy game,” said Van Nostrand, director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at WVU Law. “There is a revolution underway in the energy industry and, in West Virginia, we are getting killed by friendly fire.”
In his written testimony to the committee, Van Nostrand acknowledged that West Virginia is currently “bearing the consequences of a global transition to clean energy.”
However, he said that if lawmakers act quickly, the state “can take advantage of the economic opportunities that will be stimulated by regional and national efforts to comply with the Clean Power Plan.”
These opportunities, according to Van Nostrand, include “tremendous economic activity” in the development of zero- and low- carbon energy resources, such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydro power.
“With an all-of-the-above energy strategy,” he said, “West Virginia can be a successful participant in these markets, and tap into the resulting job creation and economic benefits that will be generated over the coming decades.”
Van Nostrand explained that coal’s demise is driven by a number of factors, including the availability of cheap and plentiful natural gas, increasing affordability of renewable energy resources, and the expense of Central Appalachian coal due to decreasing productivity of the region’s mines.
“The role of EPA regulations is only one of the factors,” said Van Nostrand.
In his oral testimony, Van Nostrand described the Clean Power Plan as a “shoulder-fired rocket launcher” in the war on coal, while economics, natural gas, climate change and geology are the “heavy fire.”
As for the state’s legal challenge to the Clean Power Plan, Van Nostrand believes there is no question that the EPA has authority under the federal Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas as a pollutant.
“But even if the Clean Power Plan is ultimately struck down,” he said, “the guidance provided by the court decision will result in a new and improved form of carbon regulation. Making the Clean Power Plan go away won’t make climate change go away.”
The U.S., Van Nostrand pointed out, would also still be committed to greenhouse gas reduction under the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.