CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller on Wednesday demanded that coal lobbyists stop using "scare tactics" to fight tougher pollution rules and urged them instead to join in finding ways for West Virginia -- and its mining industry -- to face the changes coming to the nation's energy system.
The West Virginia Democrat said the industry's strategy "moves us backward, not forward" and simply delays and distracts from reducing coal's negative impacts and working to diversify the state's economy.
"Coal has played an enormous part in our past and can play an enormous role in our future, but it will only happen if we face reality," Rockefeller said.
Rockefeller delivered his message in a Senate floor speech on West Virginia Day, as he announced he would vote to help defeat a Republican resolution that would have blocked the Obama administration's rules to curb mercury and other toxic air emissions from coal-fired power plants. The resolution lost on a 46-53 vote.
In a 16-minute speech, Rockefeller followed the path that the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd took in December 2009, when Byrd called out the coal industry for fighting public health protections and environmentalists for arguing the nation would be better off without any coal mining.
"Let me be clear: I'm frustrated with some of the top levels of the coal industry, but I'm not giving up hope for a strong 'clean coal' future," Rockefeller said.
Since Byrd's death two years ago this month, Rockefeller has at times shown signs of taking on the coal industry's anti-Obama campaign, acknowledging, for example, the scientific consensus about coal's role in global warming. At other times, Rockefeller has supported industry-backed legislation, such as a bill to block new rules on the disposal of toxic ash from coal-fired power plants.
On Wednesday, Rockefeller criticized "millions of dollars" in coal industry and political candidate advertising that he said tries to convince West Virginians -- and especially coal miners -- that they should "turn back the clock, ignore the present, and block the future."
Rockefeller said that concerns about coal's pollution and its impacts on global warming are real, and that the industry wastes precious time and resources trying to deny science and block any new regulations.
"The reality is that many who run the coal industry today would rather attack false enemies and deny real problems than find solutions," Rockefeller said.
Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, said it was "regrettable that a number of senators" from coal states "could not see their way to supporting their communities and the nation's economic growth at a time when the need is greatest."