CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Officials from three federal agencies decided to skip a Friday hearing staged to give congressional Republicans another opportunity to continue their campaign against Obama administration policies aimed at reducing coal's impacts on the environment, public health, and the global climate.
A House Natural Resources subcommittee had scheduled the hearing to question the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's veto of the largest mountaintop removal-mining permit in West Virginia history. The hearing was called, "Obama administration's actions against the Spruce Coal Mine: Canceled permits, lawsuits and lost jobs."
Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., called EPA's veto of the Arch Coal Inc. permit "one of the most disgraceful legacies of federal bureaucracy in American history." Lamborn said the veto, since overturned by a court decision that EPA is appealing, was just one example of the Obama administration's "war on coal."
"President Obama's war on coal can be felt throughout this country," Lamborn said. "Americans should be disturbed by this trend."
In West Virginia, coal employment actually grew during the first three years of the Obama administration, though industry officials say layoffs announced since the first of the year will soon show up in those statistics.
Nationally, coal's share of power generation -- once easily more than half -- dropped to a little more than a third during the first three months of 2012.
Experts say the switch is due in large part to the increase in cheap natural gas production fueled by advanced drilling techniques that have opened up shale-gas reserves. And utilities say that many of the coal plants they've targeted for closer would have been shuttered regardless of any EPA rules, because they were aging and inefficient.
"People want to blame Obama for the free market turning against a technology that is outdated and not competitive," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.
Friday's hearing, the latest in a series of House events set up to allow criticism of Obama's coal policies, was billed as focusing on the EPA's Spruce Mine veto.