All of the experts who testified say the regulations will stop the construction of new coal-fired power plants and could force existing plants to shut down.
A heated debate over burning coal to generate electricity triggered protests in Abingdon Monday morning. Members of Congress were greeted by more than 100 protestors when they arrived for a special field hearing to talk about new emissions regulations for coal-fired power plants.
"There is no question this is a war on coal, this is our counter attack," said Virginia 9th District Congressman Morgan Griffith.
Griffith organized the special sub-committee hearing to listen to testimony from coal and utility companies.
The EPA wants all power plants to meet the same emissions standards as natural gas, but energy companies say the technology does not exist to do that. The Dominion Resources president says if the regulations were already in place, they would not have built their new plant in Wise County, Virginia.
"The $2 billion investment would not have been made. Under the rule we would have had to build with the hope and prayer that in 10 years the technology would emerge to all us to operate the plant," he said.
Ferrell says he's nervous the rule could be extended to current coal-fired plants and could force their new facility to close.
Dozens of coal miners packed the hearing, including Stephen Boggs who says he's worried the new regulations could force him out of a job. "It's scary,” describes Boggs. “I'm 19 years old with a long time ahead of me. If it caves, my whole future is up on the air."
Many protestors Monday said Congress needs to redirect its attention. They argue to leave the regulations in place and develop ways to help the economy in coal communities.
"I think they are a good beginning step,” says Rees Shearer. “I feel Congress should not change the EPA, but facilitate a transition in the economy of Southwest Virginia.”
These regulations are the first of their kind. In the past the EPA has issued different standards for coal, oil and natural gas.
Virginia Congressman Morgan Griffith drafted legislation to repeal the regulations.
He says the outcome of November's election will be key in what happens.