- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A 2015 state law could prevent West Virginia from tapping its best plan to shield its freefalling coal industry while complying with federal carbon pollution regulations on coal-fired power plants, according to state environmental officials.

In a feasibility study released Thursday, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection suggested changing state law so it no longer prohibits trading carbon allowances and measuring the state’s emissions by mass, instead of by rate.

Those options could keep the state producing power through coal at a rate similar to levels projected without the federal Clean Power Plan, according to a report by Marshall University economists and Energy Ventures Analysis Inc.

The carbon allowances focus on shutting down or cutting coal power sources. The other option, credits in a rate-based approach, instead rewards states for using more lower-carbon power sources, like renewables, to diminish coal’s share of national power production.

Last year, West Virginia’s Republican-led Legislature passed the state law that DEP wants changed. Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed it.

The Legislature is open to addressing DEP’s concerns, Senate leadership spokeswoman Jacque Bland said.

Many Democrats and Republicans in West Virginia oppose the Clean Power Plan, which sets state-by-state limits on carbon emissions by 2030 to curb climate change. They consider it an affront on the state’s coal industry, which has been crippled by a combination of economic, geologic and regulatory factors.

West Virginia’s largest power provider, Appalachian Power, has said it is scaling back its use of coal, regardless of whether the Clean Power Plan takes effect.

The Supreme Court halted the new federal regulation while legal challenges continue.

Environmental officials stressed that the projections are based on a few assumptions, including higher natural gas prices in the future and the development of a strong national emissions trading program.

Additionally, environmental officials pointed out that how other states plan to meet their carbon emissions goals will greatly affect West Virginia.

Only 15 percent of the coal mined in West Virginia ends up being burned for power in the state. Fifty-five percent goes to other states, and 30 percent is exported.

Under the Clean Power Plan, West Virginia would need to cut its emission rate by almost 37 percent by 2030, compared with 2012 marks.

Or the state could cut its carbon emissions by 29 percent of their mass by 2030, compared with 2012.

In Thursday’s report, DEP stresses that it’s not advocating for the Clean Power Plan, noting its opposition on a variety of “legal, technical and practical grounds.” The report was required under state law.

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