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Tomblin, Capito vow to fight EPA for coal industry

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia political leaders on Thursday promised coal industry officials they would continue the fight to stop the Obama administration's crackdown on mountaintop removal.

Acting governor Earl Ray Tomblin and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., were among the morning speakers at the West Virginia Coal Association's annual Coal Symposium, held at the Charleston Civic Center.

Tomblin said his administration would continue to pursue a lawsuit to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's more rigorous Clean Water Act permit reviews and tougher EPA water pollution guidance for mining operations.

"We don't know how the litigation against EPA will conclude, but we must speak out when we are wronged," Tomblin said.

Capito said Republican leaders in the House will likely hold hearings that will give her and other lawmakers a chance to grill EPA officials about their crackdown, and that she's signed onto a bill that would strip EPA of its authority to revoke issued Clean Water Act permits for mining operations.

"You're going to see aggressive action against the EPA," Capito said. "It's going to have to be an all-sides attack."

Capito got her biggest applause when she mentioned a proposal floating around Washington to totally defund the EPA. Capito did not indicate whether she would support such a move, but said she thought it had little chance of passing.

Coal Association Chairman Gary White told industry officials that the group is performing a thorough review of its various public relations and advertising campaigns, and believes that coal's "favorable" ratings in West Virginia have increased 20 percentage points in the last decade.

"Some of what we are doing, at least, is working," White said.

But White said the general public still does not understand that some of EPA's regulatory moves would curtail not just mountaintop removal, but also dramatically cut back on underground mining and the ability of mine operators to get permits for coal cleaning plants and waste-disposal facilities.

"What's going on on the national level against this industry has frozen our ability to get permits," White said.

Gene Kitts, a vice president for International Coal Group, asked Capito to help the agency work against the U.S. Office of Surface Mining's proposal for rewriting its stream protection rules.

"We would really appreciate some oversight on this," Kitts said. "They're fixing a problem that doesn't really exist."

The symposium continues today.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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