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Obama reaffirms mission to reduce carbon emissions

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  • Many WV coal counties losing revenue

    Many WV coal counties losing revenue

    Monday, August 8 2016 10:15 AM EDT2016-08-08 14:15:05 GMT

    As Appalachian coal production continues its drastic decline, West Virginia’s coal-producing counties are  not only losing people as lifelong residents are forced to flee their homes in order to find work, but in many cases, they’re also relinquishing millions of dollars from their budgets.

    As Appalachian coal production continues its drastic decline, West Virginia’s coal-producing counties are  not only losing people as lifelong residents are forced to flee their homes in order to find work, but in many cases, they’re also relinquishing millions of dollars from their budgets.

Under the current administration, clean energy research has received federal funding preferences and proposed greenhouse gas rules have made it more difficult to build traditional coal plants. Wednesday, the president said that's not enough to fight climate change.

President Barack Obama's statement on Nov. 14 came during his first press conference following the election. The debates and public conversation about climate change – and the role of human activity in it – were not largely discussed.

Both candidates touted the benefits of fossil fuels and their role in the nation's energy mix. Obama, who has made it clear in the past that he believes humans have a hand in global climate change, reaffirmed that belief in his conference Wednesday.

"What we do know is that the temperature around the globe is increasing, faster than was predicted even 10 years ago. We do know that the arctic ice cap is melting faster than was predicted even five years ago," Obama said. "I am a firm believer that climate change is real and that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. As a consequence, I think we have an obligation to future generations to do something about it."

Already Obama's Environmental Protection Agency had put strict limits on carbon dioxide emissions. Those limitations practically allowed for the use of any major fuel support other than coal.

While newer, advanced coal technologies can be burned in a manner that fits those carbon dioxide limits, the economic feasibility of those methods have been called into question.

Obama did not mention those rules, primarily propagated by the EPA as the result of lawsuits filed regarding the Clean Air Act, in Wednesday's conference. Instead, Obama touted fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks and the doubling of renewable energy sources under his administration, "which promises to reduce the utilization of fossil fuels for power generation."

He said his administration will continue to invest in breakthroughs to reduce carbon emissions.

"We haven't done as much as we need to, so what I'm going to be doing over the next several weeks, next several months, is having a conversation, a wide-ranging conversation, with scientists, engineers and elected officials to find out what more can we do to make short-term progress in reducing carbon," Obama said.

He added that an "education process" across the country will be necessary to create "realistic long-term solutions" to avoid passing the problem of climate change to future generations.

"I don't know what either Republicans or Democrats are prepared to do at this point, because this is one of those issues that is not just a partisan issue, but I also think there are regional differences," Obama said.

In West Virginia, a Democrat-heavy state, the conversation about climate change is often non-existent or skeptical of the science suggesting man-made climate change is occurring. The Democrat-Republican divide on this issue, Obama has pointed out, is often linked to which sources of energy are grown near home.

He added that addressing climate change is "hard, but important" and "will involve making some tough political choices."

"If the message is somehow we're going to ignore jobs and growth to address climate change, I don't think anyone is going to go for it," Obama said. "I'm not going to go for it."

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., recently elected to serve his 18th term, largely on a pro-coal platform, was skeptical of the president's reason for implementing emissions reductions. 

"I will continue to fight to protect West Virginia jobs and the livelihood of our coal miners and economy," Rahall said. "Using climate change or extreme weather events as an excuse for harsher domestic emissions restrictions will mean lost jobs in our state and severe disruptions to our economy, while providing little benefit for the environment."

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., emphasized the need to strike a balance between environmental concerns and the jobs provided by coal. Manchin just won election over Republican John Raese in a race largely centered on coal issues.

"As we work toward a cleaner environment, I believe we need to find a balance between the environment and our economy," Manchin said. "The President himself acknowledged this need for balance with jobs in his comments today - and I believe our first steps must be to fix the finances of this country and create good jobs."

Manchin added that given world population, "there's no question that humans have an impact on our climate."

"The real question is how we deal with it," Manchin said. "The fact is, eight billion tons of coal will be burned next year worldwide, according to the Department of Energy. China is burning half of that, while the United States is using only one eighth. The Department of Energy also projects that the United States will continue to rely on coal for well over a third of our energy for decades to come. With that being the reality, our country also has a tremendous opportunity to develop technology that will help make coal generation cleaner - not only in America but all over the world."

In a news release shortly before the election, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity issued a report done by the National Economic Research Associates finding that EPA regulations, specifically seven rules, would impact 1.5 million jobs over the next four years.

"If the EPA is allowed to continue its aggressive anti-coal agenda, the American economy will lose another 1.5 million jobs in the next four years," said Mike Duncan, president and CEO of ACCCE.  "The EPA does not consider the economic consequences of their actions, which in this case will not only erase American jobs; it will raise annual costs to families by hundreds of dollars, the equivalent of a monthly grocery bill."

The report projects high costs for the industry and consumer as a result of EPA regulations, including those that limit carbon dioxide emissions.

Requests for comment from West Virginia senators and other representatives were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Analysts and media have speculated on the administration's possible approach to address climate change, but it is not clear precisely what sort of policies may be proposed.

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