The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

September 6, 2012

Maroney: War on coal ‘blown out of proportion’

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

— Republicans are making much ado about the “war on coal” in West Virginia in attacks on President Barack Obama, and a West Virginia delegate at the Democratic National Convention sees such rhetoric as exaggerated.

What’s more, says veteran Charleston attorney Pat Maroney, if Mitt Romney moves into the White House, coal miners are apt to suffer from the standpoints of both safety and health since a Republican presidency would be inclined the relax federal standards.

The fact is, Maroney said in a Wednesday interview, West Virginia coal miners haven’t suffered because of the Environmental Protection Agency’s inflexible enforcement of clean air and water rules.

“What has happened in West Virginia is, we’re producing more coal,” he said. “Coal miners have not suffered in that sense.”

For another angle in the controversy, Maroney invited GOP critics to look at the Patriot Coal bankruptcy with an effort to cheat thousands of working miners and retirees out of health benefits.

“The coal industry needs to look at what Patriot Coal is trying to do in a bankruptcy plan to deprive thousands of West Virginia families of medical benefits,” the attorney said.

“The EPA is something that has been blown way out of proportion.”

Besides that, he said, one must consider the ideologies of both Obama and Romney when it comes to federal safeguards for underground and surface miners.

Obama appointed former miner Joe Main to a key role in the Mine Safety and Health Administration, but if Romney is elected, Maroney warned, miners would become imperiled.

“You would see drastic cuts in the safety program and enforcement at MSHA,” he said.

“Not only that, but Republicans in the House would refuse to fund certain programs which would help enforce MSHA regulations. Mr. Romney would back that up to the hilt. And that’s just dead wrong for underground coal miners and surface coal miners.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin helped popularize the West Virginia lament of a “war on coal” in his State of the State address last January.

Since then, the EPA has come under rhetorical fire from Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall, both D-W.Va., but all three Democratic leaders are conspicuously absent from the Obama-dominated convention in Charlotte.

So, why aren’t they in Charlotte to carry the message about the “war” to Obama’s ears?

“You would have to ask those three,” Maroney answered.

“I’ve been coming to conventions a lot of times. A lot of times the elected officials do not come.”

As a 3rd District congressman, Bob Wise never attended, nor did he appear in Los Angeles at the 2000 convention when he ran for governor. Instead, Wise was represented by his wife, Maroney pointed out.

“That’s not a big thing,” he said the absence of Tomblin, Manchin and Rahall.

“That’s been blown way out of proportion. I don’t see where that’s a big factor.”

Maroney served as state Democratic chairman between 1996 and 2003 and now is a national committeeman.

In his professional life, he also works as general counsel for the West Virginia AFL-CIO.

Maroney views the Obama-Romney showdown as a “real choice,” and says the incumbent is the better choice, given the entirety of his program.

“When you look at the totality of what he inherited four years ago and what he has done to help the country, it’s amazing,” he said.

“Folks need to look in-depth at what’s occurred the last four years to create a better life for the entire population and particularly West Virginians.”

One major positive move, in his estimation, has been approval of the federal health care act.

“A lot of folks call it the affordable health care act, which is the official title,” Maroney said.

“I’m proud to say it’s Obamacare, because what it does for West Virginians is outstanding.”

For one thing, it removes the cap imposed by insurance carriers, he said, and another giant step is that it mandates coverage for pre-existing conditions. Maroney said the law also is beneficial in allowing children to say on their parents’ plan to age 26.

“And it eliminates the doughnut hole for seniors, which is a tremendous savings for seniors each year,” the attorney said.

“The only people that are really against Obamacare are insurance companies. They finally have to start providing much, much better coverage at lower rates than at the billions of dollars it will save.”

In contrast, Romney now opposes the plan but himself promoted a government health initiative when he was governor of Massachusetts, he said.

“When you talk about flip-flopping, he can flip-flop well, depending on who the audience is and what he’s trying to say at that point in time,” he said.

“I don’t think he really has a plan or a program. I don’t think the real Mitt Romney can stand up. He wants to keep the taxes low on the wealthy and they’re the folks who benefit most from society and they should be paying an increase to the government because they benefit most from it. President Obama wants to increase the tax for the very wealthy and lower the tax rates for middle income and lower income citizens.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com