CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Industry and political leaders on Tuesday launched a three-city tour they hope will generate more vocal opposition from West Virginians to Obama administration proposals to reduce coal's impacts on water and air quality, public health and global warming.
Officials from the West Virginia Coal Association and the United Mine Workers union joined with Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., for the kickoff event, held at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.
"We put people in power to do what's best for us and what's best for West Virginia is coal," said Fred Tucker, a UMW representative and co-chairman of the Coal Forum, a taxpayer-funded group that is sponsoring the meetings.
Coal Forum officials displayed a series of computer slides titled "The War on Coal" and said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiatives regarding coal-ash disposal, water pollution and toxic air emissions amounted to a battle against the industry "waged on land, sea and air."
"We are totally over-regulated," said state Sen. Art Kirkendoll, D-Logan. "If you say we're not, you're telling a misnomer."
Coal Forum officials put together meetings in Charleston, Wheeling and Beckley with the help of Brown Communications, one of the public relations firms that helped create and continues to promote the industry front group FACES of Coal.
The forum was created by state lawmakers years ago and has held a variety of educational events, but has also helped to oppose tougher regulation of the industry under language in state law that authorizes it to conduct "coal advocacy programs." Over the last two years, lawmakers ordered the state board that's supposed to focus on technical safety issues to spend $60,000 on Coal Forum efforts.
Coal Association President Bill Raney acknowledged that state and federal numbers show an increase in coal jobs in West Virginia during the Obama administration and since the EPA began a crackdown on mountaintop removal.
"We're proud that we were hiring more people," Raney said. "We never complained or said anything negative about hiring more workers."
On Monday, during an appearance on the statewide MetroNews radio show Talkline, Coal Association Vice President Chris Hamilton indicated that additional scrutiny from regulatory agencies helped fuel the increase in mining jobs over the last three years.
"Part of the reason the employment is up is it's costing quite a bit more to mine a ton of coal and it's taking several more people than it did a couple of years ago," Hamilton said.