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W.Va. leaders vow continued fight against EPA's 'war on coal'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia political leaders on Thursday continued their criticism of what they call the Obama administration's "war on coal," despite a reported increase in mining employment and utility statements that the closure of aging coal-fired power plants was inevitable, regardless of what air pollution rules were implemented.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin headlined the last day of a three-city tour by the taxpayer funded Coal Forum group, and continued his verbal attacks on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"[The] EPA has waged an outright war on everyone who works so hard to keep the lights on in our country," Tomblin said.

The governor touted his continuation of a lawsuit filed during the Manchin administration to try to block the EPA's closer scrutiny of mountaintop removal permits.

Tomblin said the EPA had shown "a whole new level of arrogance" when it vetoed a Clean Water Act authorization for the largest mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history, and said his administration filed a "friend of the court" brief supporting Arch Coal's lawsuit against the EPA over that permit.

"You can be sure, I won't back down," Tomblin said. "I will do everything possible to protect our coal industry."

Tomblin has joined with most of West Virginia's political leaders in supporting the coal industry's efforts to block the EPA's efforts to reduce coal's impact on water and air quality, public health and global warming.

The industry group FACES of Coal, whose public relations agents were paid with state money to organize this week's meetings in Charleston, Wheeling and Beckley, says Obama's policies have turned Appalachia into a "no jobs zone."

Data from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration shows first-quarter 2012 employment in the coal industry in West Virginia at 24,500, the highest levels since 1992.

Coal company officials point out that there's been a flurry of layoff announcements this year by some of the region's major coal producers, including Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal and Patriot Coal. Those figures could show up in state and federal employment figures released for the second or third quarters of 2012.

Echoing the industry remarks, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said the public should not pay attention to the "rosy picture" created by news media reports of the mining industry's employment increase.

"While accurate to a point -- and I don't bemoan any jobs that exist in our state of West Virginia -- those figures are rather misleading," Rahall said. "Those figures, in my opinion, are ignoring what has happened in recent months."

Rahall said his concern is what happens when other EPA regulatory measures -- a cross-state pollution rule, mandated reductions in toxic air releases and a limit on greenhouse gas emissions -- take effect in what he refers to as "the so-called 'train wreck' situation."

Last August, a report by the Congressional Research Service disputed the "train wreck" label that industry officials have given to the EPA regulatory agenda.

The report said the rules would hurt mostly old, outdated power plants that lacked modern pollution controls, were inefficient and were likely to be shuttered anyway. The report also said criticisms of the EPA proposals usually overlook the potential benefits to public health and the environment.

"The costs of the rules may be large, but, in most cases, the benefits are larger," the CRS report found.

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


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