Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has killed an effort by his Republican counterpart Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass a bill that would prevent the Obama administration from issuing regulations that burden the coal industry.
McConnell asked for unanimous consent to pass the “Saving Coal Jobs Act,” but was blocked by Reid who objected.
“I know how important coal is to the state of Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana,” Reid said on the Senate floor on Thursday. “A lot of states feel very strongly about coal. And I will be happy to work with the Republican leader and others who are concerned about the coal issue in the United States to come up with a procedure where we can try to figure out a way to get a vote on this and have a reasonable debate on it.”
McConnell’s bill comes just before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to unveil its new carbon dioxide emissions limits on new power plants. The agency’s rule, however, is expected to essentially ban the construction of new coal-fired power plants unless they utilize carbon capture and storage technology — which is not yet commercially available.
The “Saving Coal Jobs Act” would have prevented the EPA from regulating carbon emissions from new coal plants and stopped the agency from stalling on issuing coal mining permits.
“It’s time to act on the Saving Coal Jobs Act. The time to act is now,” McConnell said on Thursday.
Capping emissions from coal plants is a key feature of President Obama’s effort to tackle global warming and lower U.S. carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020.
“Combating climate change means curbing carbon pollution — for the first time ever — from the biggest single source of such dangerous gases: our coal-fired power plants,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
McConnell’s bill is one of several Republican efforts to derail the Obama administration’s attempts to regulate carbon emissions from coal plants.
“In the year President Obama took office, there were over 18,600 employed in the coal industry in my state. But as of September 2013, the number of persons employed at Kentucky coal mines is only 13,000.,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
“And the picture is getting worse instead of better,” he added.
Recently, the James River Coal company announced that it would be closing several mines in eastern Kentucky and laying off 525 workers due to “continued weakness in the domestic and international coal markets.” The eastern part of the state has been hit particularly hard in recent years from the EPA ramping up its regulatory regime and increased competition from low-priced natural gas.
According to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, coal mining jobs reached their lowest point in nearly a century as coal mine employment fell 6.5 percent during the second quarter of 2013.
“Well, Kentucky coal miners have suffered far too much already,” McConnell said. “Congress cannot sit idly by and let the EPA unilaterally destroy a vital source of energy and a vital source of employment.”
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