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Tomblin energy meeting touts coal, natural gas

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin joined Monday with a crowd of industry officials to tout West Virginia coal mining and gas drilling at an annual meeting aimed at promoting energy development in the state.

Tomblin, in a short speech, highlighted his administration's efforts to fight Obama administration pollution rules and to speed up the timetable for the state Department of Environmental Protection to issue new oil and gas drilling permits in the Marcellus Shale.

"I'm not shy about my support for coal," Tomblin said in his brief remarks.

Other speakers at the event, organized by the state Division of Energy, joined in criticizing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, pooh-poohing the growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar, and avoiding any discussion of the dangers of global warming or citizen concerns about environmental downsides of mining and drilling.

"It's one sided," said Monongalia County resident Duane Nichols, a chemical engineer who is active in monitoring drilling and attended Monday's event in Charleston.

"Many of the speakers have talked about balance, about how we need a mix of energy sources," Nichols said. "But it was clear from the beginning that the impacts on communities and local citizens are lost in the shuffle."

In one presentation, retired West Virginia University business researcher Tom Witt did focus on the ongoing decline in local coal production, citing low natural gas prices among the "myriad of factors" behind the trend.

"The long-term outlook for coal tends to be negative," Witt said.

Marshall University's Cal Kent noted U.S. Department of Energy data that shows renewable energy production "taking off" nationally, but complained that some alternative sources such as wind "remain heavily subsidized."

In his talk, Kent provided no comparison of government subsidies for various energy sources. He also complained that negative environmental impact of renewable energy sources "are too often glossed over," but provided no examples of those impacts.

Christy Risch, another Marshall researcher, noted that West Virginia actually provides little in terms of government help for wind and solar power than surrounding states.

Risch also recommended that the state focus much more on improving energy efficiency both among electrical utilities, businesses and homes. West Virginia has the second highest energy consumption per household in the region, and has ranked poorly on energy efficiency report cards, Risch said. Efficiency improvements could save money, provide jobs and be good for the environment, she said.

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


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