Rockefeller keeps heat on coal industry

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) announced new plans Wednesday to craft carbon capture and sequestration legislation as part of a wider push to hold the coal and power industries more accountable to concerns about climate change and public health.

Rockefeller sent a letter last week to 30 organizations ranging from environmental groups to electric utilities indicating he was drafting a CCS research and development bill similar to one he introduced in 2010. He asked for their comments on the initiative no later than Sept. 14.

{mosads}“The future of coal, and frankly that of all fossil fuels, depends on technology to use energy resources more cleanly,” Rockefeller said in the letter. “We have to make the collective choice between developing key technologies of the future here in the United States or ceding that role to other countries.”

The letter adds to a growing history of Rockefeller confronting the coal industry on its role in climate change and public health.

It has also sparked more speculation that Rockefeller, who is up for reelection in 2014, will not seek a sixth term. Rockefeller has not been raising a lot of money. In the spring, he had $827,000 cash on hand. Three months later, he has roughly the same amount in his campaign account.

Rockefeller has voiced support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) mercury air toxins standard, known as the Utility MACT rule. That rule would for the first time impose mercury emission limits on coal-fired power plants.

Though his state is the nation’s second-largest coal producer, Rockefeller noted in a June speech on the Senate floor that greenhouse gas emissions have adverse health effects on his constituents. He said the nation must come up with a cleaner way to use coal to protect citizens’ health.

EPA estimates that the mercury and air toxics standards (MATS) will prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 cases of childhood asthma per year, among other benefits.

Rockefeller said in a June speech on the Senate floor that “many who run the coal industry today would rather attack false enemies and deny real problems than find solutions,” referring to the industry’s objections to the EPA rule. He also called on coal to “discard the scare tactic. Stop denying science.”

Rockefeller acknowledged in the letter he sent last week that too few current CCS technologies “are ready to be immediately deployed at commercial scale.” He said the bill he intends to propose would help accelerate commercialization of that technology to make it more affordable by crafting regulatory and financial incentives to drive innovation.

Letter recipients included the National Mining Association, Duke Energy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund and Edison Electric Institute.

Rockefeller added in the letter that the organizations must shed “the temptation to protect the status quo or prevent inevitable change.”

At the time of Rockefeller’s June speech, Republicans were pushing for a vote to prevent EPA from implementing the Utility MACT rule. That effort failed by a 46-53 vote.

EPA’s rule finalized late last year provides power plants three to four years to come into compliance (and, conceivably, a fifth year for some plants if power reliability issues arise).

Industry and the GOP have criticized the rule, saying power generators did not have enough time to comply. They also said meeting the metrics would require expensive purchases, such as scrubbers for power plants, that could either force utilities to shutter power plants or pass the costs on to consumers in electric rates.

Rockefeller called the June vote “foolish action” and said those who oppose the Utility MACT rule were putting Americans’ health at risk.

This article was updated on Aug. 9 at 10:40 a.m.

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