At issue in Wednesday's Senate vote was an effort to overturn EPA's new rule to slash mercury and other toxic emissions from the oldest, least efficient, and most polluting power plants in the country.
Rockefeller touted what he said were "enormous" health benefits of the pollution reductions, citing studies "that established the serious and long-term impact of these pollutants on premature deaths, heart attacks, hospitalizations, pregnant women, babies and children."
Rockefeller said that, "despite the barrage of ads, the EPA alone is not going to make or break coal. There are many forces exerting pressure and that agency is just one of them."
Quality coal reserves in Central Appalachia are being mined out, Rockefeller said, and competition from Wyoming and Illinois is intensifying. Low-priced natural gas is eating into coal's share of the electricity market, and the nation needs to take action to combat global warming, Rockefeller said.
"The shift to a lower carbon economy is not going away, and it's a disservice -- a terrible disservice -- to coal miners and their families to pretend that it is, to tell them that it is, that everything can be as it was," Rockefeller said. "That can't be. It's over.
Rockefeller said coal can -- and should -- still be part of the nation's energy mix and West Virginia's economy, but only if mine operators and society face up to dealing with its problems.
"It's not too late for the coal industry to step up and lead by embracing the realities of today and creating a sustainable future," Rockefeller said. "Discard the scare tactics. Stop denying the science. Listen to what markets are saying about greenhouse gases and other environmental concerns, to what West Virginians are saying about their water and air, their health, and the cost of caring for seniors and children who are most susceptible to pollution."
Shortly after Rockefeller's speech, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., took to the Senate floor and said he would vote in favor of the resolution authored by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and made the same sorts of arguments that Rockefeller had just decried.
Manchin said he was "determined to stop the EPA's jobs-killing agenda" and "to reign in this out-of-control agency."
"West Virginians are outraged at the ways the EPA is overstepping its bound on regulation after regulation," Manchin said. "The fact is this rule will have devastating effects on our families, jobs and economy, and doesn't come close to striking a balance between the economy and the environment."
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., issued her own statement lamenting the failure of the Senate resolution, saying "EPA will stop at nothing until it severely cripples the coal industry."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.