Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Once a reliable conservative state, Democratic-led Virginia embracing EPA carbon regulations

Most coal-producing states have opposed the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rules to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants 30 percent by 2030 and have joined a lawsuit to fight the rules. But not Virginia. Once a state that relied heavily on coal, Virginia "has been moving away from coal-fired electricity for the past decade, and the effects of climate change—particularly along the Atlantic coast—already has its attention," reports Katherine Bagley for InsideClimate News as part of the series Coal's Long Goodbye.

"In Virginia, coal still dictates the economy in some southwestern parts of the state; one of the nation's largest energy companies, Dominion Resources, is headquartered in Richmond; and the nation's largest coal export facility is on the coast in Norfolk," Bagley writes. "Until recently, coal accounted for nearly half of the electricity generated in the state; now it's less than a quarter." While Dominion hasn't vocally opposed the rule, the company "has argued that natural gas, wind and solar are not yet reliable enough to replace coal." Officials and environmentalists say getting support from the energy sector will be key in complying with rules.

One of the reasons Virginia is moving away from coal is a political shift in the state. Once considered a conservative state, Virginia now has a Democratic governor, two Democratic senators and the state twice voted for President Obama, Bagley writes. Attempts by the state's Republicans lawmakers to block EPA rules didn't go anywhere during the last legislative session. (Dominion photo: Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center coal plant)

The state's "move away from coal has also been shaped by economic forces," Bagley writes. "With coal values plummeting and pollution regulations increasing, 11 coal-fired power plants have shuttered their doors, converted to natural gas or biomass or announced plans to close or convert since 2008, according to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. Nuclear energy and natural gas now dominate the state's power sector."

"Experts say Virginia is already 80 percent of the way toward its proposed target of reducing emissions 38 percent by 2030," Bagley writes. "Environmentalists argue expanding renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency should make up the remaining 20 percent. State officials said it will be more complicated than that, but possible."

Another reason is that climate change has been more apparent in Virginia than in neighboring coal-producing states Kentucky and West Virginia, Bagley writes. "Virginia Beach has experienced approximately 30 inches of sea level rise since 1880, according to the state's Department of Environmental Quality—nearly four times the global average and the second highest in the United States, behind Louisiana." (Read more)

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