The Times West Virginian

Opinion

August 4, 2013

Can United States ‘hit the reset button’ when it comes to use of clean coal?

Is it possible for the nation to “hit the reset button” when it comes to coal?

That’s the hope — time will tell if it’s realistic — after a meeting between the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, and several West Virginia Democrats and others who traveled to Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio, Democratic congressional candidate Nick Casey, Chris Hamilton of the West Virginia Coal Association and Bill Banig with the United Mine Workers of America were among the delegation.

Puccio, The State Journal reported, said the delegation was restricted on the number of participants, and several letters from other lawmakers in support of the delegation were passed along during the meeting and more were on the way.

The delegation met with McCarthy, EPA staff and senior advisers to President Barack Obama, whom many believe is the leader of a “war on coal.”

“I told them that ‘the war on coal’ is not an optical illusion, that it was real,” Manchin said. “It’s not just a war in West Virginia or this country, but it’s a war around the world.”

The good news is that communication has been established between coal interests and McCarthy.

The previous director, Lisa Jackson, received three letters from Tomblin, Miley told The Associated Press, but the governor never got either a response or any acknowledgment that the letters had been received. McCarthy’s reception on the day she was officially sworn in, Miley said, “speaks volumes to her willingness to try to understand.”

“I believe we’ll have the opportunity to hit the reset button and have a constructive dialogue,” Miley said.

Rahall said McCarthy made some comments about the need for coal that are “a source of some encouragement.”

As we have continually pointed out, much progress has been made in mining and burning coal in a more environmentally friendly way over the years, and efforts to improve further must continue. Coal, even with efforts to address climate change, will be a significant and needed part of the energy portfolio in the nation and world for decades to come. It’s part of abundant, affordable energy that’s essential to a sound, growing economy.

Tomblin said McCarthy promised to have an open dialogue and consider the economic impact of EPA’s policies, something that the Republican members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation — Reps. David McKinley and Shelley Moore Capito — have also demanded.

There will be a close watch to see if McCarthy’s words to the delegation mean something.

“However, the proof will be in the pudding,” Rahall said, “and our delegation made abundantly clear that there must be greater equity between environmental goals and economic needs.”

The delegation invited McCarthy to visit West Virginia to see first-hand the impact the EPA has on the coal industry.

“She didn’t confirm right there,” Manchin said, “but I think we can make that happen.”

Moving forward, it’s critical that all stakeholders — from miners to industry to lawmakers to regulators — be heavily involved in the future of coal.

“If we’re going to have an honest conversation about climate change and the future of coal, we can’t afford to leave anyone out — from miners and their families to coal operators, utility companies and policy-makers.  It’s in our interest as West Virginians to be part of the solution, and it’s in our interest as a nation to invest in clean coal,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who is in his final term before retirement.

“We should start with a real public-private partnership among all stakeholders, especially in these tough budget times.

“The administration sent the right message last week when our new Energy Secretary (Ernest) Moniz touted clean coal during a visit with the experts in West Virginia. But actions speak louder than words, on all sides, and the details of how we move forward matter a great deal. I will never stop believing that we can work together to find common ground in supporting our miners and investing in clean coal. That hard work must begin today.”

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