Opinion

Senator Rockefeller fiddles while the coal industry burns

Deneen Borelli Director of Outreach, FreedomWorks

A plan to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions is gaining momentum, but Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is playing the spoiler to the growing bi-partisan effort to stop the federal agency’s power grab.

With the exception of Rockefeller, all of the members of the West Virginia congressional delegation — Republican and Democrat — support the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011. It would limit the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Obama ordered the EPA to regulate them, based on a Supreme Court ruling, after his cap-and-trade proposal failed on Capitol Hill.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee recently voted 34 to 19 in favor of the act, but Rockefeller criticized a similar amendment to small business legislation offered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying, “I won’t support a total dismantling of the EPA, and I am disappointed with Republican efforts to bring up this legislation, which has no chance of ever becoming law.”

Rockefeller is offering an opposing amendment with a similar EPA prohibition, but only for two years — kicking the can past the 2012 elections.

The obvious goal of Rockefeller’s political gamesmanship is to provide political cover for lawmakers feeling the pressure from constituents concerned about the economic consequences of the EPA’s actions.

Liberals caught in the political crossfire can use Rockefeller’s amendment to say they voted to curtail the EPA’s power without completely overriding President Obama’s use of executive authority as a weapon in his war on fossil fuels.

This is important since the fate of the Energy Tax Prevention Act lies in the Senate. Rockefeller is trying to peel away just enough votes to keep the legislation from reaching the president’s desk.

While Rockefeller fiddles with legislative tactics to preserve the EPA’s power, however, the coal industry burns.

Rockefeller is siding with Obama and environmental extremists, who want to end the use of coal, over his constituents, who rely on the coal industry for jobs.

While Obama wages his war on coal, Rockefeller is turning his back on the coal country communities that sent him to Washington. Rather than considering the coal industry that is so vital to West Virginia’s economy, Rockefeller — like a double agent in a spy story — is aiding the progressives in a waiting game that ends with the death of the industry.

Rockefeller is also long on words and short on meaningful action.

Following the EPA’s earlier cancelation of a water permit to Arch Coal for a mine in West Virginia, for example, Rockefeller wrote to both President Obama and the EPA to express his opposition.

In his letter to Obama, Rockefeller wrote: “I urge the EPA to immediately reconsider its approach to coal mining permits in Central Appalachia and instead find constructive ways to reduce environmental impacts while allowing mining operations that spur job creation to go forward.”

Having served in the Senate for over a quarter-century, Rockefeller should know words without a threat of action will bounce off White House and agency bureaucrats on a mission to end the use of coal.

Once again, it seems Rockefeller is willing to go part of the way to combat the problem, but he fails to follow through with actions that will lead to a satisfactory resolution.

If Rockefeller really wanted to send Obama and the EPA a message, he would join the rest of the West Virginia delegation and support a definitive halt to the agency’s end-run around Congress. A two-year delay does not remove the uncertainty of future regulations that is preventing the coal industry from being able to make sound business investments.

There is a difference between playing the game and playing to win. And the citizens of West Virginia don’t need Senator Rockefeller playing them by not taking meaningful action to represent their interests.

Deneen Borelli is a fellow with the Project 21 black leadership network, a program of the National Center for Public Policy Research.