West Virginia Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall, huddled at the White House Thursday to urge the administration to rethink its climate-change agenda and how it could affect the coal industry.
Among the administration officials at the meeting were Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, President Obama's top aide on energy and climate Heather Zichal, and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley, according to an Obama administration official.
Manchin expressed cautious optimism afterward that the officials came out of the meeting with a better understanding of the impact that pending climate-change regulations would have on not just the coal industry, but the country's electricity supply.
"I truly believe in my heart of hearts that she [McCarthy] will go back and reevaluate the direction they might have been going," Manchin said of EPA's greenhouse-gas regulations. "She knows the devastating effect it will have."
But will this meeting prompt actual change? "I do trust that she understands it," Manchin said. "Will they do something about it or just talk the talk? I don't know."
Manchin, who was the only Democrat to vote no on McCarthy's confirmation vote last month in the Senate, also urged the new administrator to visit West Virginia, which produces 12 percent of the country's coal, second behind Wyoming. He is confident she will make the trip. "I just assume she would," Manchin said. "No reason to think she wouldn't."
Manchin said the meeting focused a lot on how coal-fired power plants can meet EPA's standards since carbon, capture, and sequestration—or CCS—technology, dubbed "clean-coal" technology, is so prohibitively costly and commercially available in just a few places throughout the world.
When asked by National Journal whether McCarthy committed to saying EPA's rules would not require CCS, Manchin responded: "She did not give me a definitive answer."
According to a presidential memorandum Obama announced in June alongside his speech on climate change, EPA will announce retooled draft standards for new power plants in September, with parallel rules affecting existing power plants coming by June of next year. Final versions of both these sets of standards are expected sometime in 2015. Manchin said Thursday's meeting covered the entire regulatory regime.
He said if EPA's rules do require the CCS technology, it would be devastating for the country.
"They're going to have a rude awakening when people start flipping the switch on," Manchin said. "That's exactly the path they're taking us down now." Coal has historically provided about half of the nation's electricity mix, but its share has gone down to between 40 and 45 percent in light of plentiful resources of cheap natural gas and tougher environmental rules.
This meeting happened almost simultaneously with a separate meeting Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz held with reporters where he said that natural gas, which burns half as many carbon emissions as coal, will also eventually need CCS technology to be part of the nation's energy mix.
Other officials at the White House meeting Thursday included West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat; West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant; and several state-level Democratic leaders. The chief of staff to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was present at the meeting, but the senator himself was not, Manchin said. The request for a White House meeting was spurred by a meeting among West Virginia Democrats, Manchin said.