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Lawmakers ask Obama to stop the ‘war on coal’

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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A bipartisan group of 22 lawmakers is urging President Obama to abandon environmental policies considered harmful to the coal industry.

“We and others have often criticized a ‘War on Coal’ waged by this White House and these accusations were met with firm denial by Administration officials and environmentalist allies,” reads a letter to Obama from West Virginia Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and 21 other members of Congress.

“However, given the cumulative impact of continued mining permit delays, EPA regulations, and your annual budgets’ repeated proposed cuts to the Department of Energy’s fossil energy research and development programs, it is hard to come to any conclusion other than that your Administration is systematically trying to eliminate the use of carbon fuels, particularly coal,” the letter continues.

Earlier this summer, the president unveiled his plan to tackle global warming, which included capping emissions from new and existing power plants — called New Source Performance Standards, or NSPS. Critics argue that such emissions caps would hurt the coal industry as well as other fossil fuels.

The EPA missed a deadline to issue emissions standards for new power plants earlier this year, prompting environmentalists to threaten to sue. Those standards would have effectively banned the construction of new coal-fired power plants.

“At a time of sustained high unemployment and a weak economic recovery, particularly in Appalachia and the former manufacturing hubs of the Rust Belt currently burdened with double-digit jobless rates, piling on billions of dollars in additional red tape further undermines our economy and weakens the long-term outlook for these communities,” the letter adds.

However, it was recently announced by White House officials that the EPA would create separate standards for emissions from coal plants and natural gas-fired plants.

“What the president’s laid out is a regulatory approach, just making it very clear that there will be a new source performance standards — one set for new coal plants, one set for new natural gas plants,” Delaware Democratic Sen. Tom Carper told reporters after a meeting between Senate Democrats and the White House.

The Obama administration has been adamant that it is not targeting the coal industry, but comments from a White House adviser indicates otherwise.

“Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal.  On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed,” said Daniel P. Schrag of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.

Coal country has been hit hard recently.  In Kentucky, coal mining jobs dropped by 30 percent between 2011 and 2012. West Virginia saw coal mine jobs decline by 3,300 in 2012.

“As dire as these numbers are, they cannot truly reflect the hardship confronting the proud, hardworking men and women who have been forced into the unemployment lines,” reads the letter. “Staying the present course will only prove disastrous: increasing unemployment, raising costs for American families and businesses, and reducing our energy security.”

Coal produced 37 percent of the country’s electricity last year, according to the Energy Information Administration, while natural gas produced 30 percent and renewable energy sources — biomass, wind, solar and geothermal — produced only 5 percent.

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