[Editor’s Note: This is the inaugural column of what will be a monthly ECN feature. Each issue, ECN’s managing editor will interview a state legislator concerning the pressing environmental and energy issues confronting his or her state.]
Benton Chafin Jr. (R-Lebanon) is a first-term Virginia state senator. He serves on four committees, including the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources. He discusses Virginia’s response to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) clean power plant regulations and the need to prevent premature action by state environmental agencies before the legislature has had time to carefully consider the ramifications of its actions.
Burnett: As the new legislative session began in early January, several bills were being floated to require any SIPS plan proposed by Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality to satisfy the U.S. EPA’s clean power plants rule 111D, for existing power plants, to be approved by the legislature before it is submitted to the EPA. Why is this legislation necessary?
Sen. Chafin: The policy decisions surrounding the submission of SIPS are vitally important to the citizens of Virginia. These regulations drastically affect the citizens, ratepayers, and businesses of Virginia due to the contemplated closings of power generators under the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Requiring the approval of the General Assembly guarantees our coal-fired power plants will continue to operate at present levels until the General Assembly acts. Our current employment levels and use of coal as an energy source will thereby remain more static. The damaging effects of regulations are delayed, and the court actions challenging the regulations are allowed to proceed.
Burnett: Should the legislature pass similar legislation for other future EPA regulations, such as the proposed ozone rule and the WOTUS rules?
Sen. Chafin: Yes. These and any other environmental regulations developed by the DEQ to implement USEPA regulations that will have a large impact on the economy of Virginia should receive the full consideration of the General Assembly, rather than simply agency approval.
Burnett: What other important energy and environment bills or issues do you foresee the legislature taking up this session?
Sen. Chafin: The legislature is working to protect the coal tax credits in Virginia. Our governor has recommended capping the coal tax credits. They are vital to the coal industry, as they allow the industry to mine thin seam coal that could not otherwise be economically feasible to mine in the current coal climate.