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Coal industry, miners rally in Washington against EPA rules

By Staff, wire reports

WASHINGTON -- Miners from West Virginia, Virginia and other states on Tuesday joined 30 members of Congress for a rally in Washington, D.C., against Obama administration rules aimed at reducing coal pollution.

Industry groups were promoting Count on Coal's Rally for American Energy Jobs outside the U.S. Capitol.

National Mining Association President Hal Quinn said the administration needed to hear from workers who produce the coal that helps produce American electricity and manufacture the nation's steel.

Coal industry officials and supporters have criticized a variety of Obama administration environmental rules, but are currently focused on a proposal to for the first time limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

"EPA is hosting listening sessions on its power plant regulations," Quinn said. "Here's an opportunity to listen to those directly affected by the agency's rules."

Pittsburgh-based CONSOL Energy, which on Monday announced it was selling its five large underground coal mines in northern West Virginia to focus more on natural gas production, said employees from its Virginia and Pennsylvania operations took buses to Washington for Tuesday's rally.

"CONSOL Energy is pleased to be a part of the rally both through our sponsorship of buses headed to the rally and through our employees and retirees who volunteered their time to stand up for coal and what it means to our economy in the way of jobs and affordable, reliable electricity for millions of Americans," said Cathy St. Clair, CONSOL's public affairs director.

CONSOL's prepared statement did not mention taking any buses of workers from the company's mines in West Virginia to the rally. CONSOL's West Virginia mines are unionized, while its mines in Virginia and Pennsylvania are nonunion operations.

The United Mine Workers union has raised concerns about the Obama administration's regulatory proposals but was not involved in promoting Tuesday's rally.

Murray Energy, which is purchasing the CONSOL mines in West Virginia, sent 26 busloads of miners and family members from its operations in Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio, said company spokesman Gary M. Broadbent.

Among the political leaders who attended the industry rally was Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., who blasted the EPA in a prepared statement.

"They have trampled on the mine permitting process," Rahall said. "They have put out air regulations that threaten the future of coal-fired power plants. And, as we stand here today, they are in the middle of conjuring up more coal-killing regulations."

In Washington, House Republican leaders scheduled another in their series of coal-industry hearings to coincide with Tuesday's rally. The hearing, called "EPA's Regulatory Threat to Affordable, Reliable Energy: The Perspective of Coal Communities," featured speakers from coalfield communities from Pennsylvania to Colorado.

Roger Horton, a retired miner from Logan County, W.Va., told lawmakers that coal communities are seeing jobs disappear "for one primary reason -- the anti-coal policies of the Obama administration."

"The president speaks a lot about economic justice and hope and promise," Horton testified to the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. "I would use this hearing to directly ask the president, 'Where is the justice for West Virginia and Appalachia? Where is the hope and justice for our coal-mining families?'"

Another witness at the hearing, Daniel Weiss, of the Center for American Progress, told lawmakers that a variety of factors -- mechanization, low prices of natural gas, improved efficiency and the rise of renewable energy production -- have cost coal communities a share of the energy market and jobs.

"We need to talk about the real reality, that as natural gas becomes cheaper than coal, it's the invisible hand of the free market," said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo. "Utilities are moving to natural gas because it makes economic sense."

Weiss told lawmakers that passage of limits on greenhouse gas emissions would provide the "regulatory certainty" that power companies need to make investments on new technologies such as carbon capture and storage, or CCS.

"We believe coal communities should receive federal assistance that will empower them to take advantage of growth opportunities that will enable long-term job security," Weiss said. "From our perspective, this means understanding the limitations of what the coal sector will offer in the future and providing resources to help these communities explore more attractive opportunities."

Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., told fellow subcommittee members that worries about jobs aren't the only concerns that coalfield residents have about coal mining. Yarmuth cited studies that show living near mountaintop removal mining puts residents at great risk of serious health problems.

"We must also consider the impact on the communities that are downwind," said Yarmuth, who has co-sponsored legislation to require a broader study of mountaintop removal's health effects before new permits are issued.


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