Politics

White House meeting raises hackles of blue dog Democrats, coal industry

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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Coal country Democrats and coal industry representatives were still uneasy after their meeting with the Obama administration on Thursday. West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said it was unclear whether the president would change his approach.

“We’ll have to see how it plays out,” Manchin told The Washington Post. “They’re using every tool they have to destroy the most abundant, reliable and affordable resource that we have.”

Manchin led a delegation of state-level Democrats, coal industry representatives and union officials to meet with the White House on Thursday to urge the Obama administration to scale back its aggressive environmental regulations.

“We don’t have the technology to meet the standards,” Manchin said. “If it’s unattainable, it’s totally unreasonable.”

Those present during the nearly hour-long meeting included White House staff, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy, United Mine Workers, the National Mining Association, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and West Virginia Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall.

Manchin told the Post that he found McCarthy to be “pragmatic” compared to her predecessor Lisa Jackson. Manchin was the only Democrat to vote against McCarthy’s confirmation.

President Obama recently unveiled his plan to address global warming, which included limiting carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. Environmentalists argue that burning coal contributes to global warming.

Manchin and other coal country lawmakers are resisting carbon emissions limits, which they argue would cripple the coal industry. The coal industry and lawmakers also argue that the EPA has been stonewalling clean water permits necessary for mining operations.

“I explained today that the regulatory barriers that EPA has erected with respect to permitting go well beyond coal mining and are now reaching across into highway construction,” Rahall said in a  statement. “Specifically, at issue for me right now is the future of the critical King Coal Highway, a road decades in the making and a post-mining economic development project that is vital to the well-being of West Virginians for generations to come.”

However, the Obama administration has been adamant that it is not targeting the coal industry as part of what critics call the “war on coal.”

“We certainly have no war on coal,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in an interview with KDKA. “These terms are tossed about.”

“There clearly was a reduction in coal use for electricity, market-driven,” Moniz added. “You also know in western Pennsylvania about natural gas, shale gas. And shale gas in the marketplace simply displaced some degree of coal usage.”

McCarthy even urged critics of the administration’s environmental agenda to stop talking about the trade-off between EPA regulations and job creation.

“Can we stop talking about environmental regulations killing jobs? Please, at least for today,” said McCarthy. “Let’s talk about this as an opportunity of a lifetime, because there are too many lifetimes at stake.”

Coal state lawmakers have promised to keep fighting to prevent the EPA from implementing emissions limits that would threaten their state economies.

“Just days ago, Ms. McCarthy asked an audience at Harvard Law School, ‘Can we stop talking about environmental regulations killing jobs, please?’” Tomblin, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Today, I took the opportunity to tell her that West Virginians will not stop talking about our jobs — and will not stop fighting for coal.”

“From the more than 24,000 coal industry employees and their families, to the thousands more employed by support industries like rail, barge, and electric transmission, West Virginians rely on the energy sector to provide food, clothing and shelter,” Tomblin added. “We’re proud of our coal mining heritage and our ranking as the third largest energy-producing state. That’s why I will always fight for coal. I will always fight for our families.”

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