By Mannix Porterfield
Any doubts that industry and political leaders don’t see that the Obama administration is engaged in a war on coal were erased Thursday in Beckley in one scathing attack after another, summed up succinctly by Bill Raney’s portrait of the Environmental Protection Agency as “an army of occupation.”
In a 90-minute event sponsored by The Coal Forum, industry and labor teamed with political luminaries to decry the EPA’s assault on coal, and one major speaker, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., flatly accused the EPA of breaking the law with its implacable enforcement of rules.
Moreover, Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, and Rahall disparaged figures showing an upswing in mining jobs since President Obama came to power as “misleading.”
Raney set the tone for the event, reminding his audience that not only have mining permits been held in abeyance by the EPA, but now the agency is threatening to put a stranglehold on coal-fired power plants with new greenhouse gas emission standards.
“Some people are trying to give credit to the Obama administration because we’ve got more people working with an increase in employees,” Raney said.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. Our people are working today in spite of the Obama administration.”
Actually, he said, the industry mapped out an initiative last November to add 2,000 miners to the payroll, “so it’s no secret and certainly should be no surprise to anyone that we needed more people and wanted more people and we set out to get them.”
But with the strident attacks by the EPA, he wondered, can existing jobs be sustained over the long haul?
“I call it an army of occupation, that began on Inauguration Day,” he said, taking a hard jab at Obama and the EPA.
“They began to bully the state and bully the nation. Now, it’s become a full frontal assault ... by land, by air and by sea.”
By that, he alluded to EPA regulations surrounding mining operations and the burning of coal at power plants, “in complete disregard for Congress.”
The EPA is forcing mine operators to function out of sequence and out of sync with the ever-changing markets, the coal leader said.
“It’s absolutely crippling our way of life, our jobs and, most importantly, our pocketbooks,” Raney said, warning that existing power plants will have to cease under the proposed Utility MACT and electricity bills will skyrocket.
Rahall, likewise, scorned the WorkForce report on additional mining jobs as “rosy reports in the media.”
“While I don’t bemoan any job that exists in our state, especially new jobs, those figures are rather misleading,” he said.
“Those figures, in my opinion, are ignoring what has happened in recent months and the repercussions of actions today and what they mean in the months ahead and years ahead for our coal industry,” the 3rd District congressman said.
The jobs count failed to consider layoffs that came from a combination of such factors as a mild winter, a boost in natural gas and the lower price of coal, he said.
“Most importantly are the regulations that are now barreling down on us, the so-called train wreck scenario, the mounting consequences of what EPA’s relentless efforts to read into the Clean Water Act, the timetable and criteria and legislative direction that simply were never contemplated by the Congress and were never there,” Rahall said.
“The EPA is going around the law to do what they’re doing.”
What’s more, Rahall said, the figures don’t consider the massive backlog — estimated by Coal Association Vice President Chris Hamilton at 1,000 — of mining permits the EPA is using as “a stranglehold” on the industry.
“Jobs have grown with demand price, but cannot be sustained if there are no permits to mine and no power plants that will burn coal,” he said.
Rahall said he has worked on a number of initiatives, some with bipartisan support, to counter the EPA, including HR4965, that would block the federal agency from imposing new guidance rules on bodies of water, “even prairie potholes,” again usurping powers he insisted belong solely with the states.
Quoting one state official, he said, “Heaven help the soul who pours a bottle of water on the ground. The EPA will slap him with a citation so fast his head will spin.”
“If we consider the current permit process a bad dream, or rather, I should say, a nightmare, compound that with this new jurisdictional guidance and you can only imagine what nightmare we’ll face at that point,” he said.
Delegate Rick Snuffer, D-Raleigh, the only regional lawmaker not invited to the Coal Forum, attended, and afterward criticized Rahall, his opponent in the 3rd District race in November, saying he voted against a House proposal known as the Reins Act that would have made the EPA accountable to Congress.
“The congressman speaks of the EPA as if it were an all-powerful, eternal force that came to be and exists on its own,” Snuffer said.
“Does he not realize the EPA was created by and is funded by Congress?”
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said America depends on coal and reminded the attendees of his administration’s legal battles against the EPA.
“The EPA has waged an outright war on coal and everyone who works so hard to keep the nation’s lights on,” he said.
“The EPA is trying to cripple the lifeblood of our state. Unelected bureaucrats are no strangers to overstepping authority.”
Tomblin pointed out that a federal judge recently ruled in favor of the state in its lawsuit over the rejection of the Spruce permit — one the EPA originally approved a decade ago — in what the governor termed “a whole new level of arrogance.”
Calling the proposed greenhouse emission rule “the most expensive” one ever sought by the EPA, he said the higher costs of meeting the standards will be passed on to businesses and consumers alike.
“They have no scientific backing at all, but they have the great potential to devastate coal,” he declared.
“I’m on your side. I’ve been fighting the EPA since the day I took office. And you can be assured, I will not back down.”
Fred Tucker, representing the United Mine Workers of America’s as the co-chair of the Coal Forum, likened the EPA’s fickleness to a football official pushing the goal line 25 yards further away after a receiving team takes a kickoff and returns the ball to midfield and saying, “You got to go 75 yards to score a touchdown.”
“That’s what the EPA is doing to us,” he said.
“I don’t mind being competitive, if I’ve got a chance to win. But I’m not going up against Michael Jordan and expect that I’m going to win a basketball game.”
Another UMWA official, Roger Horton, admonished his audience to start spreading the word across the nation of coal’s critical importance in supplying electricity, saying, “It’s up to us to get off our butts, folks, quite frankly, and tell everybody what coal is all about.”
“If we don’t, we’re going to fail as a nation, as a state, and then begin wringing our hands.”
Like the others, Horton portrayed the EPA as a presumptive bureaucracy which has sidestepped the will of Congress.
“These bureaucrats who made these decisions do so without the consent of Congress and without thinking, and will tell you they don’t think about the jobs,” he said.
“That’s so damn wrong. I’m sick and tired of it.”
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