West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) cautioned the federal Environmental Protection Agency against "unreasonable" greenhouse gas regulations on Monday, even as residents of his state clamor for more environmental safeguards.
Tomblin met Monday with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to discuss the ongoing response to the Jan. 9 Elk River chemical spill, in which 10,000 gallons of an industrial chemical spilled upstream from a water treatment facility and tainted the water supply for 300,000 residents. During the meeting, Tomblin presented McCarthy with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's recommendations for the Obama administration's forthcoming greenhouse gas regulations.
The new regulations, which are expected to be announced in June, will govern greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. Regulations for such emissions from newly constructed plants were issued by the federal government in September of last year.
Tomblin "offer[ed] to work with EPA in developing reasonable standards" and cautioned against an "unreasonable regulatory structure" in accompanying letter. He also urged the EPA to consider the "real life adverse consequences of economically unfeasible greenhouse gas regulations on West Virginia."
The state DEP report asserts the importance of coal for West Virginia. EPA's emissions guidelines "must recognize the need for the continued use of coal at coal-fired plants," it reads.
McCarthy's office declined to comment on the meeting or the West Virginia DEP's report.
West Virginia's DEP Secretary Randy Huffman told the Charleston Gazette that the recent report represents an effort to counter previous anti-regulation and climate change-denial rhetoric from West Virginia officials. "We're trying to position ourselves to work with EPA on how this will be done, rather than continuing to argue that it shouldn't be done."
Indeed, a recent poll sponsored by the Sierra Club found that, since the spill, 73 percent of West Virginians think state officials have "paid too little attention to addressing threats to air and water."
The state's report describes carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas that "may" contribute to man-made global warming. "The likely adverse economic impacts, including potential unintended consequences, must be carefully weighed against the uncertain environmental benefits of U.S. power plant CO2 emissions regulations," it concluded.
By contrast, the most recent report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reaffirms scientists' confidence that the 40 percent increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels since pre-industrial times, primarily due to human activity, is the greatest contributor to the energy imbalance that's driving global warming.
West Virginia officials' suggestion that reducing CO2 emissions from power plants will have "uncertain" benefits directly counters the IPCC, which warns, "Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions."
On the subject of the spill Tomblin told McCarthy, "This event is not only a significant public health issue, but also an environmental and economic development issue." He thanked the EPA for its help in the wake of the disaster.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the safety of the water supply around Charleston, W.Va., on Feb. 5, but has not used the word "safe" until this week. "While a toxicologist does not speak precisely in terms of safe or not safe -- saying 'safe' here is a less scientific way of restating our belief about how the water can be used, which we shared Feb. 5," CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said in an email to the Associated Press and others on Monday.