CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Democratic Party leaders, along with union and business leaders, announced Tuesday they are sending a 17-person delegation to Washington, D.C., August 1 in an effort to prevent new restrictions on coal-fired electric power plants.
Larry Puccio, chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, said this is the first time such a wide coalition is expressing concerns about tougher carbon emission regulations proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration. West Virginia political leaders have expressed such concerns for years.
Next week's visit to Washington is supported by the West Virginia AFL-CIO, West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, United Mine Workers of America and West Virginia Coal Association.
"This has never happened before," Puccio said after the press conference. "This is not about politics. It is about people in West Virginia. We want to support our people."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, all D-W.Va., and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin sent messages supporting next week's visit to Washington.
"We need to have an energy policy that will include all of our energy sources, including coal," said Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall.
"Many of us have different views. But if coal is destroyed, it will destroy our economy here in West Virginia," said House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison. "We will continue to fight to keep our coal industry viable. Hopefully, our visit will have some impact on the people we meet in Washington."
Despite the efforts of some politicians and coal industry representatives to blame the downturn in the coal industry on an Obama administration "war on coal," the industry faces several other challenges. The discovery of the Marcellus Shale gas reserves in West Virginia and elsewhere have significantly dropped the price of natural gas, and coal from Western states is usually cheaper than that from Appalachia.
"We can't repeat what happened in McDowell County. When coal mines shut down, people and businesses left McDowell County," House Majority Leader Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said Thursday. Caputo is also vice president of UMW District 31.
Mining in McDowell County declined in large part after its major reserves of metallurgical coal began running out.