By Sherese A. Gore
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Calling his administration “a friend to the coal industry,” Gov. Bob McDonnell reiterated his goal to make Virginia “the energy capital of the East Coast.”
McDonnell made those remarks last week in delivering the keynote speech at the Eastern Coal Council’s annual legislative breakfast.
“We’ve been called the Saudi Arabia of coal because the amount of coal we got in our country is akin to what Saudi Arabia has in oil,” McDonnell said. “Why would we ever want to sacrifice a strategic American advantage?”
He described the “ripple effect” of job creation that extends from the coalfields of Southwest Virginia to the shipping lanes of Hampton Roads. The ripples even reached China and India after business trips McDonnell made to those countries with Jim Cheng, Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade.
Also in Wednesday’s speech, the Republican governor criticized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for what he called its “assault on the coal industry.” In December, the EPA issued standards intended to lower mercury emissions produced by coal-powered power plants. McDonnell questioned the need for the new rules.
“We all know that an unnecessary regulation is nothing more than a hidden tax,” McDonnell said.
Critics say the new standards will cause higher energy bills. Kenneth Nemeth, secretary to the executive director of the Southern States Energy Board, seconded that opinion, declaring the rules a “tax on poor people.”
Barbara Altizer, executive director of the Eastern Coal Council, said the EPA policies would force power plants to close and create blackouts.
“There’s a need for new plants,” she said. “Our grid’s in bad shape.”
Regarding alternative energy sources, such as wind and biomass, McDonnell was skeptical.
“There may be times when some other alternatives get to a point where the economies of scale and technologies are worked out so that they are viable,” he said. “But we’re not there yet.”
The governor concluded his speech with a declaration of energy independence.
“We don’t need to depend on foreign cartels or other countries that are hostile to the overall interests of the United States … for power sources, when we have abundant natural resources, God-given, in our own state,” McDonnell said.
The Eastern Coal Council represents the interests of the coal, rail and power industries. Representatives of Dominion Power, Consol Energy and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce were at the breakfast.
Environmentalists were disappointed in McDonnell’s appearance before the council. They say he favors fossil fuels over renewable energy resources.
Environmentalists were happier on Thursday when the federal government announced it is moving forward in developing wind energy off the Virginia coast.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is exploring industry interest in commercial wind energy leases off the Atlantic Coast from New Jersey to Virginia.
McDonnell applauded that development.
“Cost-effective development of Virginia’s offshore wind resources is one important component of our overall effort to make Virginia ‘the energy capital of the East Coast,’ ”said the governor said.
“America must continue to generate electricity from traditional sources such as coal, nuclear and natural gas, while moving forward in pursuit of innovative alternative sources like wind, solar and biomass.”
Glen Besa, director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, also applauded the decision.
“Offshore wind power will lower the true cost of power for Virginians and bring us greater price stability and energy independence,’’ Besa said.
This CNS article was published by the Virginia Public Access Project.