Published June 1979 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Balancing National Priorities One of the most important duties in the federal government today is striking a balance between potentially conflicting priorities. The current oil shortage has spawned such a conflict; we must balance our environmental needs with our need to use domestic energy resources, such as coal, to replace imported oil. This issue arose recently when officials of the Environmental Protection Agency were writing the air pollution standards for new coal-fired power plants and factories. The new EPA rules would govern the amount of sulfur dioxide and other chemicals released into the air by these facilities. There were reports that the EPA was considering a more stringent sulfur dioxide emission standard than one currently in effect. There was a potential danger that the proposed standards would discriminate against Midwestern, Southern, and Eastern coal, which is higher in sulfur content. Such coal would require additional scrubbing, at great expense, if excessively stringent emission standards were to be met. Utilities and factories, under these circumstances, would choose to burn low-sulfur Western coal. The result would be decreased demand for Midwestern, Southern, and Eastern coal, and increased unemployment among miners in those regions. Additional thousands of coal miners would be put out of work in West Virginia alone; almost one-half of the United States' available coal reserve would be precluded from use. This was not the result envisioned by Congress when the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977 were adopted. In writing the rules to carry out the intent of these laws, the EPA officials had to be made aware of the implications of their decisions. In a series of meetings, which I chaired, coal industry leaders, union officials and EPA representatives exchanged views on the proposed standards. Then, I arranged a meeting of coal-state Senators, most of us from the South, Midwest and East, with President Carter to convey our concerns. We presented the President with sound arguments for a more flexible sulfur dioxide standard, and reminded him that it makes no sense to urge industries to switch to coal from oil or natural gas, and at the same time, allow regulatory agencies to issue rules and regulations that limit coal burning and mining. Happily, our words were heeded. The EPA recently announced a reasonable, flexible coal emission standard which will continue to protect the environment, without harming the coal industry, or jeopardizing our efforts to achieve energy independence.