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W.Va. delegation meets with EPA head in Washington

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Democratic Party leaders, along with officials from the coal industry and the United Mine Workers, met in the White House Thursday morning with Gina McCarthy, the Environmental Protection Agency's new administrator.

"I don't think I could be more comfortable with anyone than with Gina McCarthy," said Larry Puccio, chairman of the state Democratic Party. "She wants to talk with us and work very hard with us.

West Virginia's recently-elected House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said, "I thought the meeting went very well."

Miley praised the "candor, openness and willingness of Gina McCarthy to be willing to take time, on the day she will be sworn in as head of the EPA, to sit down with us for 45 minutes and listen to our concerns."

Chris Hamilton, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, and Bill Banig, director of governmental affairs for the United Mine Workers of America, also praised McCarthy's willingness to listen to them during the meeting.

State politicians and coal industry leaders have been quick to blame federal regulations as the major factor oppressing coal production in West Virginia. They have been less ready to acknowledge other factors, including the increased availability and low prices of natural gas, competition from low-sulfur coal in western states and the fact much of the easily reachable coal in West Virginia has already been mined.

During a telephone press call after the White House meeting, Puccio said he did not invite any environmental group leaders to join Thursday's meeting with McCarthy.

Vivian Stockman, project coordinator for the Huntington-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said several of her members wanted McCarthy to "know that the coal-bought politicians in the delegation that went to Washington, D.C. today do not represent us.

"We appreciate what the EPA is doing to protect us from the overreaching of the coal industry.

"We want to make sure they know there are West Virginians who know global warming and climate changes are real and that coal pollution is impacting human health. We need more regulations, not less," Stockman said.

EPA press secretary Alisha Johnson said, "This was a good and productive meeting. It is always helpful to hear views of the West Virginia delegation as we work together to find the best solutions to protect public health and reduce carbon pollution while promoting job growth."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who did not attend the meeting, released a statement pointing out, "West Virginia coal miners and their families have given so much for the country and for our state.

"Any action on climate change affects them greatly, which means they absolutely must have -- and deserve -- a chance to be heard in charting a future for coal," Rockefeller stated. "I'm urging the administration to carefully and truly listen to what our delegation has to say today."

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., criticized the EPA during a telephone press conference after the White House meeting.

"They are trying to prohibit the use of a product we are dependent on," Manchin said. "The war on coal is not an optical illusion. It is a war around the world that this administration is launching."

"We told her first-hand what the effects her decisions were having on West Virginia. We have to invite Gina McCarthy to come to the state," Manchin said.

U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall said he appreciated that McCarthy was listening "to the grave concerns we voiced today about the detrimental effects that EPA's regulatory actions are having on coal jobs and our economy in West Virginia."

Rahall said McCarthy's "comments that coal is a vital part of our energy future are a source of some encouragement.... Our delegation made abundantly clear that there must be greater equity between environmental goals and economic needs."

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said, "The stakeholders [in this debate] are not just the coal operators and the utilities but also the people of West Virginia. I think McCarthy was very receptive."

Nick Casey, a Democrat running for Congress in next year's election, said, "President Obama ran on a platform of hope. What was the hope he gave to West Virginia?

"It causes fear when a mine closes and jobs are lost. Schools could close. The people of West Virginia have felt abandoned by this president," Casey said.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told McCarthy "hundreds of West Virginians are now out of work due to EPA's overzealous, ideological, and financially devastating policies that have led to the closure of coal mines and coal-fired power plants in our state.

"McCarthy responded by promising to provide an open dialogue and consider the effects of policies on working men and women in West Virginia," according to a statement Tomblin released.

Miley believes things will get better.

"Gov. Tomblin sent three letters to Lisa Jackson [McCarthy's predecessor as EPA administrator]. He never received a response. She did not even acknowledge the letters were ever received.

"With the new director, we could get a meeting with her within a week of her getting the job," Miley said during the telephone press conference.

Hamilton said, "I am also very hopeful. McCarthy was taking very careful notes during our meeting. She clearly acknowledged our concerns."

Stockman asked, "Can you imagine what it would be like if we didn't have the EPA trying to keep a check on this industry?

"We are heading to a post-coal economy, and leaders that truly care about West Virginia will embrace that instead of denying it," she said.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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