EPA says 'coal is in energy mix'

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyAs oral arguments approach, Clean Power Plan remains a threat to our most vulnerable EPA blasted over lack of protection of minorities U.S. and Puerto Rico must cooperate on Zika MORE on Friday signaled an intent to work with industry groups on the ageny's proposed standards for coal-fired power plants.

Speaking from North Dakota, McCarthy said the EPA is not interested in what critics have said is a "war on coal" by the Obama administration, aimed at pushing out coal companies to make room for renewable energy. 

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"Coal is in our energy mix today, and it will be for decades in the future," McCarthy said.

Focus has turned to North Dakota as of late, where the state is in the middle of an energy boom, in large part due to coal-fired power plants. McCarthy traveled there at the request of Sen. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Democrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal Wells Fargo board to decide on executive clawbacks MORE (D-N.D.) to see what the state's plants are doing firsthand. 

The EPA has drawn criticism from industry groups for what they say is the agency's "war on coal." Earlier this year, the EPA proposed tougher standards that would limit carbon emissions from new power plants, which critics say will make it nearly impossible to build new plants.

The EPA also plans to come out with new standards for existing power plants in June, and many industry groups have expressed concerns that these rules could force coal-fired plants out of business.

Republicans have strongly opposed the rules and so has Heitkamp. They claim the rules would hurt coal jobs and raise energy prices for consumers.

"If we, in fact, discontinue the use of coal, that will be a decision generations in the future will look back on and consider very, very poor," Heitkamp said Friday.

But Heitkamp, who has been a vocal critic of McCarthy and the EPA over these rules, said she was optimistic after a "productive discussion" with McCarthy.

McCarthy, meanwhile, said it was an opportunity to "be quiet" and listen to what Heitkamp and workers at the coal-fired plants had to say. She said the EPA would "stay in our lane" and not overstep its congressional authority to regulate the environment.

"I think we tried to talk about what's realistic for existing facilities to achieve, especially in a state that's very (dependent) on coal but also has done some work on renewable energy," McCarthy said.