The Times West Virginian

Opinion

December 8, 2013

Cutting down uncertainty in energy sector critical for U.S.

It’s not a secret that the Barack Obama administration has left coal out in the cold when it comes to the administration’s energy policy.

At every turn, those who mine coal and those who burn it have had an uphill battle to overcome rules and regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Frankly, it’s had an impact on the coal industry in West Virginia. It’s had an impact on the coal industry across the nation. And while there have been measured successes when the state’s administration has taken the issue up with higher courts, the coal industry is in danger of being broken by the regulatory agency that serves at the whim of an administration that is anti coal.

That is our story in West Virginia, but other states are affected, too.

It’s one of the problems with not having a national energy policy. Instead, the most important economic sector in West Virginia is in the balance every time there is a presidential election, as the EPA acts and serves at the president’s discretion.

“We have no national energy policy. We have no national immigration policy. We have no national manufacturing policy,” said U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va. “As a result, I hear too many times from the bureaucrats who come into our (House energy committee) hearings that they have to change their story, they have to change their theory every time there’s a change in the administration. I think that’s dangerous.”

What McKinley is proposing is a national energy commission, something that is very unique to Washington, D.C. We know of no other type of commission that puts together experts from every aspect of a sector, analyzes how laws and regulations impact that sector, and then give an unbiased, nonpolitical report to the president and Congress.

The commission, which would be made up of members appointed by the president and majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate, would review where the nation currently stands on energy production from all sources, laws and regulations and their impact on production, and finally begin to develop a long-term goal for the nation.

“There are no elected officials on it. Our idea was to get people in fossil fuels, utilities, researchers, environmentalists, economists, labor,” McKinley said. “I want America to be represented on this committee, not politicians.”

The bill is still in draft form as McKinley and the co-sponsor, U.S. Rep Diane DeGette, a Democratic representative from Colorado, work to get support from both sides of the aisle. McKinley hopes to introduce the bill in the new year.

And we hope it gets traction and attention, as we see this as a critical issue for West Virginia and beyond.

What has been holding the energy sector back is uncertainty. Who in their right mind would invest millions or, in many cases, billions to design and construct plants that would meet the extraordinarily low threshold of environmental impact of carbon emissions for power plants? Why, when tomorrow there could be new regulations or next year or the next administration?

And when that happens, coal suffers. As companies move on and are forced to leave coal behind, our economy suffers.

After all, you can’t hit a moving target. Rules and regulations today are not the same as they were last year and will certainly not be the same in 2014. Why would companies blindly follow 2013’s environmental impact rules when in 2014, there could be new unfunded mandates from the EPA that contradict actions they’ve taken?

While we know this commission will not solve all that ails the energy sector of this country, we know that this could potentially mean developing a long-term policy that lawmakers could follow and give some stability to the energy market. And that is something that has certainly been missing for some time.

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