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Jay tells coal not to work for 'status quo'

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller on Friday urged West Virginia's coal industry to stop "fighting for the status quo," but repeated his strong opposition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's crackdown on mountaintop removal mining and to EPA regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The West Virginia Democrat said he's pushing for a two-year moratorium on EPA greenhouse rules to allow Congress to write its own plan that would allow more time to perfect and deploy carbon dioxide emissions controls for power plants.

In a speech to the West Virginia Coal Association, Rockefeller said industry officials should not simply fight making changes in the way they operate, but focus on finding better ways to adapt.

"The coal industry is at a crossroads like never before -- change is already upon us," Rockefeller said. "And we have to find a way -- urgently -- to grab hold of our own future."

Rockefeller said the mining industry faces increased competition from cleaner-burning natural gas, a declining reserve of recoverable coal, "lukewarm investors on Wall Street," along with what he called "EPA overreach" on greenhouse gas emissions and Clean Water Act permits.

Regardless of any new environmental rules, government forecasts generally project that Central Appalachian coal production will be cut by half over the next decade because of competition from other regions and the mining out of the best coal supplies.

But Rockefeller insisted in his speech that, "We know this nation cannot and will not prosper without coal, either today or at any time in the future.

"The decline of coal is not inevitable -- there are just as many factors working for us as against us," Rockefeller said in prepared remarks.

Rockefeller noted that he had recently reintroduced mine safety reform legislation, but also said "mining will always be a dangerous occupation. We accept that."

In a separate speech to the coal industry group, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., promoted his own legislation to block EPA from vetoing Clean Water Act permits that have already been issued by the federal Army Corps of Engineers.

"I believe it is absolutely wrong -- the unbridled power that these agencies have," Manchin said. "Or the power they are exercising because they think they have it. It's wrong not just for West Virginia. It's wrong for America."

Rockefeller is co-sponsoring Manchin's legislation, but told the coal group that "EPA-bashing" is not going to help the industry or its political allies in Washington.

"Eliminating the EPA or stopping the agency from ever addressing carbon emissions simply won't work," Rockefeller said. "And I promise you that most of the people in Washington who are pressing those ideas want a fight more than they want a solution."

Rockefeller said the defeat last year of climate change legislation in the Congress "was a short-term political win" that "didn't do anything to address the underlying issues."

"Major changes to our energy and climate policies are by no means off the table, and broader economic forces in the energy industry are starting to eclipse the policy," Rockefeller said. "The utility industry, the chemical industry, and many other major players in the U.S. business community are still pressing for a price to carbon in some form, or for a new clean energy standard, or both. They insist that unless and until we settle that issue, they cannot move forward with the clean coal investments West Virginia needs."

Rockefeller says he believes that global warming is a problem, but last year he voted in favor of a Senate resolution that said EPA was wrong to issue a scientific finding that climate change endangers public health and welfare.

Rockefeller said his greatest fear is that "we will win some of these battles and yet still lose the war."

"We must up our game," he said. "We have to increase the intensity of our effort to find solutions to coal's challenges -- not just fight the issue of the day, and certainly not get bogged down in rhetorical games or bickering over side issues. If we spend even half our time fighting for the status quo, we will be left behind."

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


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