Rockefeller blasts coal industry, lauds EPA - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Rockefeller blasts coal industry, lauds EPA

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From the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., made a major break from the rest of the West Virginia delegation in regard to coal and the Environmental Protection Agency.

To be clear, Rockefeller was not disparaging the mining of coal. The thrust of his June 20 speech, however was against standard coal political narrative in West Virginia.

Rockefeller's speech was in response to a Senate resolution introduced to overturn pollution standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"I don't support this Resolution of Disapproval because it does nothing to embrace coal's potential," Rockefeller said. "It moves us backward, not forward.  And unless this industry aggressively leans into the future, coal miners will lose the most. It's not too late for the coal industry to step up and lead by embracing the realities of today and creating a sustainable future. We need a bold partner, innovation and major public and private investments."

Despite the split from traditional West Virginia politics of all-around defense of the coal industry, state Democratic Party chairman Larry Puccio was not critical of Rockefeller's speech on the Senate floor.

"Our West Virginia Democrats in Washington are independent thinkers, and they vote the way they believe best represents the people of West Virginia," Puccio said.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. stood behind the bill, even getting out ahead of the June 20 vote to publicly express support. The bill would have blocked Environmental Protection Agency efforts to reduced mercury and other air toxics from coal-fired electric plants. It was introduced by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. The resolution was ultimately defeated.

"Beyond the frenzy over this one EPA rule, we need to focus squarely on the real task of securing coal for the long term while addressing legitimate environmental and health concerns." Rockefeller said. "Let me be clear. I'm frustrated with some of the top levels of the coal industry, but I'm not giving up hope for real solutions for clean coal."

Rockefeller called the resolution "foolish" and "destined to fail."

"Solving big challenges with American ingenuity is what we do," Rockefeller said. "West Virginia knows energy, and West Virginia doesn't shrink from challenge. We have the chance here to not just grudgingly accept the future — but to boldly step into that future."

In his floor speech, Rockefeller said the conversation on coal has hit "a fevered pitch." He blamed the coal companies for influencing the discussion with misinformation and money.

"Carefully orchestrated messages that strike fear in the hearts of West Virginians and feed uncertainty about coal's future are the subject of paid television ads, billboards, break room bulletin boards, public meetings, letters and lobbying campaigns," Rockefeller said. "A daily onslaught declares that coal is under siege from harmful outside forces, and that the future of the state is bleak unless we somehow turn back the clock, ignore the present and block the future."

Rockefeller said market forces and a need to reduce environmental impact is driving inevitable change in West Virginia. Without facing the real problem, Rockefeller said, West Virginia miners could be left "in the dust."

"Scare tactics are a cynical waste of time, money and, worst of all, coal miners' hopes," Rockefeller said. "But sadly, these coal operators have closed themselves off from any other opposing voices and few dared to speak out for change — even though it's been staring them in the face for years."

Sierra Club leader Michael Brune praised efforts of the senators who voted against the bill, including Rockefeller.

"We applaud the senators who voted against this contemptible attack on public health," Brune said. "Today's vote clearly shows who is on the side of American families and who is on the side of those who would poison them."

The coal industry has been pushing for the resolution and other measures to impede the agenda of the EPA. The National Mining Association President Hal Quinn released a statement expressing his disapproval of the rejection of the resolution shortly after the vote.

"Today's regrettable vote locks in higher electricity rates for consumers and businesses for the foreseeable future," Quinn said. "It's unfortunate that a number of senators from states whose economies rely on affordable, coal-based electricity could not see their way to supporting their communities and the nation's economic growth at a time when the need is greatest."

The full text of Rockefeller's speech is available at the State Journal's Grounded energy blog:

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