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House votes to stop the ‘war on coal’

On Friday, the House of Representatives voted 233 to 175 to stop the Obama administration’s so-called “war on coal,” passing a bill that would limit the EPA’s regulatory authority over greenhouse gases and limit the Interior Department’s ability to issue coal mining rules.

“The Obama administration’s ‘all of the above but nothing from below’ energy policy threatens our electricity independence,” wrote Republicans Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan and Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma in an op-ed Thursday.

The vote was largely split along party lines, with 19 Democrats voting with 214 Republicans. Meanwhile, 13 Republicans broke with their party and voted against the bill along with 162 Democrats.

The Stop the War on Coal Act of 2012 is a bundle of provisions which the House has already passed, including one prohibiting the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions and another which is an alternative to EPA rules for coal ash disposal and management.

The bill also restricts the Interior Department from issuing regulations regarding surface mining operations and limits the EPA’s ability to veto permits issued under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, while also promoting the cooperation between the federal government and the states regarding water pollution controls.

“Since taking office, the Obama Administration has waged a multi-front war on coal – on coal jobs, on the small businesses in the mining supply chain, and on the low-cost energy that millions of Americans rely upon,” said Washington Republican Rep. Doc Hastings on the House floor Thursday.

However, the bill faces an uncertain fate in the Democratic-led Senate, and President Barack Obama has threatened a veto.

Democrats argue the coal industry is on the decline because of competition from other energy sources like cheap natural gas, and not because of regulations.

“Republicans have been so busy manufacturing fake wars on coal and oil that they’ve missed the real American energy revolution in natural gas, wind, solar and other cleaner, cheaper forms of energy,” Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ed Markey said.

“Republicans do favors for coal and oil, even though their prices are going up and jobs are going away. Then they attack and ignore clean energy and natural gas, even though their prices are going down and the jobs they create are adding up,” Markey added.

It has been a rough year for the coal industry starting off in January with an announcement by FirstEnergy of the early retirement of six plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland because of costs and uncertainty over new EPA regulations.

In February, GenOn announced it was shuttering 13 percent of its generating capacity by 2015 due to new environmental regulations.

Over the summer, OhioAmerican Energy Inc., a subsidiary of Murray Energy Corp., announced layoffs in Ohio after five years of operation and that about 50 employees would be affected. PBS Coals Inc. and its affiliate, RoxCoal Inc., laid off 225 workers working in deep and surface mines in July, citing low demand and aggressive regulations.

Patriot Coal recently announced it was going to cut coal production by 85,000 tons per month for 60 days, which will impact 250 jobs across three mine complexes in Southern West Virginia — the latest in a series of cutbacks in recent months.

Earlier this week, coal company Alpha Natural Resources announced it would be laying off 1,200 workers and closing eight coal mines to face two new challenges: cheap natural gas and “a regulatory environment that’s aggressively aimed at constraining the use of coal.”

“These lost jobs aren’t random events – they are the direct result of the policies and actions of the Obama Administration – these are the outcomes of their regulatory war on coal,” Hastings added.

New analysis by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity found that more than 200 coal-based electric generating units across 25 states are scheduled for shut down in part due EPA regulations, equivalent to shutting down the entire electricity supply of Ohio.

“This is further evidence that EPA is waging a war on coal, and a war on affordable electricity prices and jobs,” said Mike Duncan, president and CEO of ACCCE.

“EPA continues to ignore the damage that its new regulations are causing to the U.S. economy and to states that depend on coal for jobs and affordable electricity,” he added.

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