West Virginia Fights to Restrict EPA's Authority

West Virginia Fights to Restrict EPA's Authority

Even as West Virginia battles with storms and floods, and scientists warn they are among the most vulnerable to climate change, state leaders continue to press Washington to weaken the EPA’s tools to address coal’s climate, health, and pollution impacts. West Virginia and a coalition of US energy companies are currently in the midst of leading a group of 18 states seeking stricter limitations on the EPA’s authority to make federal regulations under the Clean Air Act and in front of the Supreme Court. Right now, the EPA has been given complete autonomy in deciding the best system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to protect human health, but a Supreme Court decision restricting its authority would significantly limit the agency’s ability to enforce those plans.

"It has incredible potential to affect how the EPA and other agencies write regulations for years to come," says Kevin Minoli, a former acting general counsel for the EPA.

NBC: "There's No Good Water": West Virginia Community Lacks Critical Access, June 19, 2021

ABC: Coal country digs in as Supreme Court weighs EPA climate power, April 13, 2022.

Why This Matters

Currently and due to the Clean Air Act, the EPA holds a significant amount of power to place regulations on coal-powered plants in order to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Coal generates 91% of West Virginia’s electricity, so strict regulations could decimate the state’s economy. However, experts say that restricting the EPA’s authority could make it impossible to cut carbon emissions by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050, especially because coal production is on the rise again.

A lack of federal regulation could also leave West Virginia’s residents and ecosystems vulnerable to abandoned and deteriorating mines left behind by bankrupt coal businesses. After years of production declines and failing coal companies, states like Kentucky are left with an abundance of surface mining violations that threaten the health and safety of residents in the area. Without the EPA's authority, these violations are left unresolved and smoldering.

Now This: Will the Supreme Court Limit the Fight Against Climate Change?, March 3, 2022.

Center For American Progress: The United States' Federal Courts Are Critical in the Fight Against Climate Change, Febraury 24, 2022.

Phasing Out Coal Is A Regional Issue

From 2005 to 2020, coal generation dropped by half in the US, but rose again by 17% in 2021. Just eight states account for nearly 40% of the country’s entire coal-powered production. West Virginia, Wyoming, Missouri, Kentucky, Utah, North Dakota, Indiana, and Nebraska are among the states with the largest reliance on coal as both a domestic source of electricity and as an economic export. In the wake of carbon neutrality promises and emissions reductions, these are the states in greatest need of drastic decarbonization transformations. With the help of legislation similar to the stalled Build Back Better plan, federal funding and assistance programs would ease the transition. Despite the opposition, companies and unions are beginning to recognize the upcoming electrification of the energy sector; in order to not be left behind, politicians must rally their communities and lead them into the inevitable future.

Sky News: What you need to know about coal, November 4, 2021.

Georgetown Law: West Virginia v. EPA Pre-Argument Panel, February 14, 2022.