CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coal industry officials may consider toning down their "war on coal" rhetoric in the wake of President Obama's re-election victory, but said Wednesday they'll continue to strongly oppose various administration regulatory initiatives.
Regional political leaders said they hold out some hope -- although a small one -- that the administration might be more open to working with states to ease U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permit reviews or moderate new air-quality standards.
"It's incumbent on those of us from the coal-producing and coal-consuming districts to come together to try to work with the EPA to see what it is we can get them to do sensibly and quit running roughshod over the states," said Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall, who won re-election Tuesday to his 19th term representing Southern West Virginia in Congress.
But experts say that seems unlikely, and that the White House may focus even more effort over the next four years on reducing mining's impact on the environment and local communities and curbing air pollution -- including greenhouse gas emissions -- from coal-fired power plants.
"I think the election returns may embolden Obama on a number of fronts, including a more determined effort to shift from black to green on energy," said Pat Parenteau, who teaches environmental policy at the Vermont Law School. "He certainly doesn't owe the coal industry or coal-state politicians anything."
Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, issued a statement congratulating Obama on his victory, and saying his group "remains committed to working with the administration and the Congress on an 'all of the above' energy strategy that includes coal, our most abundant energy resource."
The United Mine Workers union, which did not endorse either candidate, also congratulated Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, saying "in the end, they laid out a vision for America's future that the majority of our fellow citizens believe is the right path for our nation."
UMW spokesman Phil Smith added, in response to Gazette questions, that the union hopes Obama's re-election would bring continued efforts to improve miner health and safety enforcement, something Republican Mitt Romney seemed likely to weaken.
While Obama secured an Electoral College victory in Tuesday's general election, Romney easily won the nation's three top coal-producing states, Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky. Obama carried key swing states -- Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado -- where Romney had hoped his promise to loosen regulatory restrictions on mining would help decide close races.
Mining industry-backed candidates won some closely watched U.S. House races, most notably in Kentucky, where incumbent Democrat Ben Chandler was defeated by Republican Andy Barr in a race that frequently focused on coal policy. And across the country, Romney handily won all but three of the 25 largest coal-producing counties.
But industry-endorsed candidates lost six key U.S. Senate races where Republicans harshly criticized generally pro-coal Democratic candidates for not doing enough to fight new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency restrictions.
Smith noted that coal wasn't necessarily the key issue in each of those Senate races, but that the UMW endorsed Democrats for each of those seats in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Montana, New Mexico and Indiana.