WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of coal miners rallied on Capitol Hill Wednesday against the Obama administration's attempts to rein in mountaintop removal mining, accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of trying to wipe out the coal industry.
"This administration is trying to shut down coal and fire all of you,'' claimed Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., adding that the EPA was practicing "strangulation by regulation.''
The industry-backed group Faces of Coal said it paid for most of the travel and lodging expenses for the coal miners, who came from West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Speakers included politicians from both parties and country music singer Stella Parton.
Later, country music performer Big Kenny told a smaller, rival rally of opponents of mountaintop removal that the coal industry does not speak for all of Appalachia.
In mountaintop removal mining, forests are clear-cut, explosives blast apart the rock, and machines scoop out the exposed coal. The earth left behind is dumped into valleys, covering intermittent streams. Coal operators say it's the most efficient way to reach some reserves, and that it supports tens of thousands of jobs and provides coal for electricity. Opponents say it pollutes water, defaces majestic scenery and obliterates the quiet country environment.
The coal industry has filed a lawsuit against the EPA's new policy which tightened water quality standards for valley fills at surface coal mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said the goal is a standard so strict that few, if any, permits would be issued for valley fills.
Ralliers wore blue Faces of Coal T-shirts, and some sported hard hats. They hoisted signs that said, "Coal Keeps the Lights on,'' and "Coal Miners 'Dig' Their Jobs.''
When an opening prayer was given, it included thanks to God for natural resources such as coal.
"They're trying to take our jobs,'' yelled Haven King, a 65-year-old retired coal miner from Hazard, Ky. "We have to stand up.''
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, said that the EPA is blocking jobs.
"West Virginia will fight back and every coal state must fight back,'' he said.