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Coal Communities devastated by EPA and new Utility MACT rule

Within the past few years new EPA regulations have hit coal-based communities hard, especially in the Appalachian regions of eastern Kentucky. Local communities are dependent upon the coal industry not just in Kentucky, but in Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, and other parts of the country. The coal industry provides thousands with electricity and jobs.

In the town of Louisa, Kentucky, Big Sandy power plant has provided electricity and jobs to the local community for almost five decades. Recently however, a combination of new EPA regulation and cheaper ways to generate natural gas, have put Big Sandy power plant out of business--devastating the local community. New federal regulation mandating overly expensive retrofits to older power plants are coming into effect at the same time the price of cleaner burning natural gas is decreasing. According to specialist on environmental policy James E. McCarthy, the Utility MACT rule will probably be the most costly of the newly proposed EPA rules, affecting older coal-fired plants that have not yet installed current pollution control technology in particular.  

American Electric Power, owner of Big Sandy, had planned to retrofit the power plant, but the $1 billion cost of doing so was just too much for American Electric Power to handle. Big Sandy will now, at the very minimum, be temporarily shut down because it will not have enough time to install the required pollution controls before the first deadline in 2015. Many in the coal industry argue that the three to four year time frame given to coal power plants to install the newly required pollution control equipment is not enough. Moreover, the reliability of the nation’s electric power supply could be severely affected by this new regulation.

Democrat Kentucky state representative Rocky Adkins, in reference to the unfortunate happenings in Kentucky mostly caused by new EPA regulation, calls it “the imperfect storm” and that the crisis “is breaking the back of our local economy.” Chris Lacy, a Kentucky mine executive at Licking River Resources, has likened the events in Louisa, Kentucky to the great depression. “If they (EPA) keep this up, the people who live here are going to have to move somewhere else, like during the Depression,” he said. “This place is suffering in a bad way.”

Chris Lacy, whose mine supplies 240,000 tons of coal a year to Big Sandy, has said that if Big Sandy goes under, he will be forced to lay off some of his 350 miners in Magoffin County, where unemployment is already well above the national average at 17.5 percent.    

The effects of new EPA regulation, including the possibility of the new Utility MACT rule, are not just limited to Kentucky. American Electric Power has already announced plans to close 5 of its 21 coal-powered plants located in Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio. Across the nation, more than 100 of the 500 coal-burning plants are expected to close in the next couple of years.

The Utility MACT rule would affect mostly small, older power plants much harder than larger power plants. The EPA concluded that some smaller plants, representing less than 10 GW of coal-fired capacity, will go out of business by 2015, rather than invest in control technologies. Coal-fired generation will decline about 2 percent compared to estimated generation in the absence of the Utility MACT rule. 

Businesses and organizations across the country are petitioning the government to stop the new EPA regulations, especially its most costly Utility MACT rule.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) is a non-profit, non-partisan partnership of companies involved in producing electricity from coal. President and CEO of ACCCE Steve Miller, who served as Bill Clinton’s organizational chairman in Kentucky for the 1992 presidential campaign, released the following statement as the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety held a hearing to review EPA’s Utility MACT rule:

“Recently finalized EPA rules and regulations, including EPA’s Utility MACT rule, are a contributing factor in the announced closure of more than 140 coal units in 20 states. Closing these plants that provide good jobs and tax dollars to local communities is counterproductive to our national goal of reducing unemployment and helping our economy recover. We urge the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety to take a serious look at how EPA’s heavy-handed agenda is hurting our families, communities, and businesses with higher energy costs and job losses.”

The 60 Plus Association, a group representing over 7 million seniors, had this to say concerning the new Utility MACT rule:

“For the last three years the EPA has been entirely hostile to policies that will increase energy supplies and lower costs for America’s seniors and families, and MACT is one of the very worst examples of this.”

The National Black Chamber of Commerce, an organization representing African-American business communities and entrepreneurs, stated that the Utility MACT rule would be the most costly regulation that the EPA has ever imposed, which would “close utility plants” and “end hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

The Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security (FACES of Coal) is an organization of more than 75,000 people working to educate lawmakers and the general public about the importance of coal to local and national economies. West Virginia Executive Director of FACES of Coal Bryan Brown stated this:

“The EPA's new MACT Rule is hurting our country and hurting West Virginia. The Utility MACT rule is destroying jobs throughout the country and especially here in Appalachia. The jobs already lost far exceed the farcical estimates EPA reported during the development of the new rule. FACES of Coal and its members are again disappointed and upset by EPA's actions that will no doubt lead to more expensive electricity rates and cause more economic hardship and challenges for businesses and communities across the country."

The EPA doesn’t deny the tragic effects that the Utility MACT rule will have on hundreds of local communities. Region 1 EPA Administrator Curtis Spalding, in a lecture at Yale University this past March, discussed the decision to create the new rule:

“You can’t imagine how tough that was. Because you got to remember if you go to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and all those places, you have coal communities who depend on coal. And to say that we just think those communities should just go away, we can’t do that. But she (Lisa Jackson-Administrator of the EPA) had to do what the law and policy suggested. And it’s painful. It’s painful every step of the way.”

Despite the fact that Curtis Spalding and the EPA doesn’t want to destroy local coal communities, this is exactly what they are doing and freely admitting to doing.

Of the estimated jobs the EPA hopes to create from the Utility MACT rule, less than 15% of them are long term. To a company like Big Sandy power plant, which has provided jobs to the local community in Louisa, Kentucky for almost 5 decades, this seems pathetic. 

61 year old Danny Sartin has worked as a barrel-chested heavy equipment operator at Big Sandy power plant his entire life. He told New York Times reporter John M. Broder that his father, grandfathers and uncles all worked in local mines that fed Big Sandy. “Coal and the coal mining industry, it’s all we have ever known,” Danny said. This is exactly what the EPA and the Utility MACT rule are taking away from local coal communities. “Everything they have ever known.”

Support S.J Res. 37 introduced by Sen. Jim Inhofe to stop the new Utility MACT rule. Sen. Jim Inhofe, recognizing the tragic affects that Utility MACT will have on our local communities, introduced this resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). If passed, this resolution would overturn the EPA’s destructive regulation. Under the CRA, slow procedural hurdles are eliminated and the resolution of disapproval can pass the Senate with a simple majority.  Call your Senator right now and ask them to support S.J Res. 37 in order to save hundreds of local communities across the nation. 



Brad Armentrout

Richard Nixon’s worst legacy is the EPA. Today this extra-constitutional agency is like the 8th Air Force in World War Two, leaving devastation everywhere it visits. Unfortunately EPA’s industrial targets are all located in the United States. Too bad for America and her job seekers.