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Coverage of energy that moves beyond polarized arguments and emotional debate to explore the points of tension, the tradeoffs and opportunities, and the very human consequences of energy policy, production, use and innovation.Inside Energy is a collaboration of seven public media outlets in the nation's energy epicenter: Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota.

EPA Coal Regs A Likely Target For The New Majority In Congress

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The Naughton Power Plant near Kemmerer, Wyoming, Sept., 2011.

When Congress heads back to Washington in 2015, one of their first agenda items will be to block, delay or otherwise damage the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan. With the new Republican majorities in both houses, and the GOP takeover of key energy committee positions, doing so could be a real possibility.

For coal states like West Virginia, Illinois, Montana and Wyoming, the fight over standards matters. The Clean Power Plan aims to reduce emissions, in part, by shifting electricity production from coal to other sources like solar and natural gas. Right now, nearly 40 percent of American electricity comes from coal. If demand were to go down, the effect on these states' economies could be substantial.

Take Wyoming, for example. To say coal is important is an understatement. According to Wyoming's Economic Analysis Division, income from mineral extraction makes up nearly 75 percent of the state's budget. Furthermore, about one-third of that comes from coal. That's how important coal is to the state.

Miners at the Cordero Rojo Mine outside of Gillette, Wyoming wear stickers on their hard hats with the words "COAL, GUNS, FREEDOM," on them. It isn't just a job or a way of life... it's practically everything.

Credit Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy
Inside Energy
Brian Wenig, one of the lead engineers at the Cordero Rojo Mine proudly wears a "coal, guns, freedom" sticker on his hard hat.

At Jake's Tavern, a popular bar in Gillette, coal miners and locals gather Thursday evenings for a weekly pool tournament. Ask many of them about the proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations and you'll receive many answers. The general feeling, though, is this: We want to protect our environment, but the EPA should really stay out of our business.

Brandon Allee, who has worked in almost every sector of energy development, put it less delicately.

"Honestly, the EPA makes it a whole lot harder for most of us to do our jobs," Allee said. "My great-great-grandfather settled most of this area. I’ll tell you what, he would have shot half the EPA administrators. But that was what they did back then."

There is also a sense that outsiders do not understand how things work. With its subzero winters, tiny population, and decades-long love affair with energy, Wyoming is unique. It's a sentiment echoed by another tavern patron, Shawn Kistler.

"It is better to have the people who live in a state regulate it themselves," Kistler said. "And just like anything else, keep it small, it will regulate itself better. And you won't get too much bureaucratic bullshit."

It is within this context that Wyoming Senator John Barrasso will fight the EPA when Congress reconvenes. He is chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, whose mission is to " ...advance Republican policies by providing positions on legislation, floor debate, and votes," according to the committee's website.

Credit Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy
Inside Energy
The logo of the Cordero Rojo Mine outside Gillette, WY as it appears on the side of a dragline. It is the third largest coal mine in the country.

So what is the Republican strategy in 2015? Senator Barrasso would not get into specifics, but reiterated his stance.

“The EPA, in my opinion, has now come out with more and more regulations which make energy more expensive. The costs are real, the benefits are theoretical,” he said.

The best bet for Republicans would likely be to defund the plan by attaching riders to important legislation. Ultimately, though, President Obama would have veto power and it is unlikely that Congress would have the two-thirds majority vote needed in each house to override a presidential veto.

Inside Energy is a public media collaboration, based in Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota, focusing on the energy industry and its impacts.

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