Danielle Elkins: Coal communities crave balance from EPA | CraigDailyPress.com
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Danielle Elkins: Coal communities crave balance from EPA

Danielle Elkins

Last week, I discussed the history of coal in Appalachia — mainly in my hometown of Southwest Virginia — and some of the factors leading to its decline.

This week, I want to share with you some details and opinions about what has taken place for the coal industry in Appalachia more recently.

Although several factors affected the Appalachian coal industry, many local residents attribute the decline in recent years to the strict environmental regulations set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration.

Something that President Barack Obama said in 2008 during his campaign while answering a question about his cap-and-trade plan, still rings in the ears of Appalachians today — “If somebody wants to build a coal-fired power plant, they can. It’s just that it’ll bankrupt them.”

That statement, very telling of Obama’s intentions for the coal industry, did not sit well with most coal-reliant Appalachians.

In 2011, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that Alpha Natural Resources was one of the top four coal companies in the nation. Alpha has employed several from Southwest Virginia, as well as other parts of Appalachia and areas not located in Appalachia.

In September 2012, however, Steven Mufson, in his article for Washington Post titled “Alpha Natural Resources closing eight mines, cutting hundreds of jobs,” was among many to report that Alpha was idling eight mines in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania and laying off around 160 mine workers in an effort to trim costs as coal-fired power plants began to shut down left and right under crippling new emissions regulations issued by the EPA and against competition from cheap natural gas.

Things got worse for Alpha still — in 2015 the company, which was once a powerhouse in the industry, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and, although the company managed to emerge from bankruptcy this year, according to its website, it’s operating on a much smaller scale than before.

Alpha is just one example of how serious the decline of coal has been in the area. Layoff after layoff in the Appalachian coal industry battered Southwest Virginia’s economy in a ripple effect that damaged several other industries and caused an uproar of anger toward the EPA from residents.

The EPA, however, does not appear to be backing down.

Judging by the information available on the organization’s website, it’s currently in the middle of a long series of Supreme Court battles for stricter regulations on power plant emissions under the Clean Power Plan, hoping to continue cutting more carbon emissions.

The EPA says that it’s planning for fossil fuels to continue to be a critical component of America’s energy future under the Clean Power Plan, while also requiring plants fired by fossil fuels to operate more cleanly, expanding the capacity for zero- and low-emitting power sources.

Still, many aren’t buying it.

U.S. Congressman Morgan Griffith (R), who represents Virginia’s 9th District, was quoted in a 2011 Bristol Herald Courier article titled “EPA regulations likely to impact Southwest VA” as saying, “There should be a balance between environmental protections and the need for jobs. Clearly, the EPA’s sense of balance is off.”

Griffith’s words represented the feelings of many coal-reliant Appalachians then, and those feelings don’t seem to have changed.

From what I’ve witnessed through my experiences growing up in Southwest Virginia and moving to Craig, coal-reliant communities across the nation are desperately pleading for a fair balance between the EPA’s emissions regulations and the need for jobs.

The U.S. Energy Information Association website states that in 2015, coal was used for about 33 percent of the 4 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity generated in the United States, making it still a top source of energy. It’s evident that, for the time being, America still relies heavily on its coal-fired power plants.

I understand that regulations are necessary because we need to protect our environment — but at the same time, we also need to protect those who rely on coal to feed their families.

Danielle Elkins is a senior at Old Dominion University, which is based in Norfolk, Virginia. She’s completing her bachelor’s degree in communications through online courses. She will be interning at the Craig Daily Press through December.Danielle Elkins is a senior at Old Dominion University, which is based in Norfolk, Virginia. She’s completing her bachelor’s degree in communications through online courses. She will be interning at the Craig Daily Press through December.Danielle Elkins is a senior at Old Dominion University, which is based in Norfolk, Virginia. She’s completing her bachelor’s degree in communications through online courses. She will be interning at the Craig Daily Press through December.


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