Morrisey: Time to fight EPA is now

PARKERSBURG – Attorney General Patrick Morrisey says there is a “sense of urgency” in moving forward a lawsuit against the EPA because West Virginia businesses already are being harmed by the agency’s proposed emissions regulations.

During an interview Thursday in Parkersburg, Morrisey said his office filed a motion Tuesday in U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to expedite briefings on the lawsuit because businesses already are suffering, threatening to lay off employees and looking at other reductions and closures due to the Environmental Protection Agency. The lawsuit is supported by 11 other states.

“There is a sense of urgency, because from my perspective, West Virginia and a lot of coal-producing states are being harmed now,” Morrisey said. “If you look at the (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) notices that came out with Coal River Energy and with Alpha (Natural Resources) that is close to 1,400 jobs that are going to be placed in jeopardy, and people are citing the regulatory environment as an important part of why the WARN notices were issued.

“Since the administration, I believe, knows there are legal deficiencies with this proposed rule, the sooner we can get this before a court and considered, the better, because otherwise there is a real chilling effect with states or any state that has to develop an implementation plan. We would like to get the answers to these questions sooner rather than later.”

The EPA has proposed stricter carbon dioxide reduction goals for individual states at coal-fired plants. Proponents say the reductions could help alleviate global warming and other health issues caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Opponents say the goals will kill jobs and unfairly burden energy-producing states, such as West Virginia.

Morrisey said he believes the rules are illegal because of earlier legislation, which governs those emissions.

“The principal argument (of West Virginia’s lawsuit) is the EPA cannot double-regulate coal-fired power plants,” he said.

Morrisey said Clean Air Act regulations issued in 2012 already govern emissions from those plants, and the new proposed regulations would not be allowed under the act.

“I believe the Justice Department and the EPA know there are legal issues, but they want to move the market,” by making coal-fired power plants less desirable to businesses, he said. “That is what is most disconcerting to me in this process.”

Twelve states, including New York, have opposed West Virginia’s lawsuit, saying it puts the health and safety of the public at risk. Morrisey said while he understands those concerns, he believes those states are not looking at the big picture of how those regulations might affect jobs and energy production.

“There are going to be states with differing opinions,” Morrisey said. “My hope is through this process we can educate a lot of other states on this issue. I think it is actually good to have a broader national debate on these points so consumers not only in West Virginia but across the country know about the impact of this rule.”

Morrisey also acknowledged the timing of the lawsuit could be considered odd because it seeks to oppose rules not yet finalized and in place. But Morrisey said he believes if President Barack Obama’s administration and the EPA are given time to put rules and people into place, the changes might not be as easy to undo.

“Because people are making economic decisions now based on the proposed rules, we want to bring more certainty to the process now,” Morrisey said. “Given the real economic harm that arises under this rule, having a hearing on the issues now is justified.”