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."