Battle Over Coal Continues to Rage at House Hearing

Investigations Subcommittee member Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) (C) listens to testimony during a hearing about the the Obama Administration's roll in the Solyndra loan guarantee at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. Much of the first part of the hearing was spent on parliamentary tactics over whether to release documents from the Department of Energy and the Treasury about concerns over the legality of the Solyndra loans.
National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
Oct. 29, 2013, 12:24 p.m.

The battle over coal con­tin­ued to rage Tues­day af­ter­noon dur­ing a hear­ing held by the House Over­sight and In­vest­ig­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee on the com­munity im­pacts of im­pend­ing En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency reg­u­la­tions for power plants.

Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Tim Murphy, R-Pa., made clear that the pur­pose of the hear­ing was not to dis­cuss the ins and outs of the reg­u­la­tions or talk about how they were cre­ated. The pur­pose, he said, was to al­low mem­bers of Con­gress to hear from people most af­fected by the EPA rule-mak­ing.

“These work­ers bear the im­me­di­ate cost of EPA’s ac­tions,” Murphy said in his open­ing re­marks. “Too of­ten, the prac­tice in Wash­ing­ton is to listen as Belt­way ex­perts and the EPA ex­plain agency ac­tions. But this prac­tice doesn’t cap­ture the daily im­pact of Wash­ing­ton on the dis­tant com­munit­ies where good jobs, with good wages, sup­port a proud way of life.”

Par­ti­cip­at­ing in the hear­ing were a num­ber of rep­res­ent­at­ives of these ‘dis­tant com­munit­ies’, in­clud­ing city and county ad­min­is­trat­ors from coal-rich re­gions and uni­on rep­res­ent­at­ives for the coal and min­ing in­dustry.

Without ex­cep­tion, those testi­fy­ing on be­half of coal com­munit­ies slammed the reg­u­la­tions, say­ing they would have a dev­ast­at­ing im­pact on the in­dustry.

Some ap­pealed dir­ectly to mem­bers of the pan­el, ask­ing them to block the rule-mak­ing.

“I am ask­ing you to please help stem the tide of un­em­ploy­ment and poverty by cur­tail­ing the EPA reg­u­la­tions that so drastic­ally im­pact the pro­duc­tion of Ap­palachi­an coal,” said Al­bey Brock, a county judge and ex­ec­ut­ive from Pinev­ille, Ky.

Oth­ers ex­pressed a sense of dis­il­lu­sion­ment with the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“This is my pres­id­ent. I voted for Obama,” said Ray­mond Ventrone, busi­ness man­ager for the In­ter­na­tion­al Broth­er­hood of Boil­er­makers Loc­al Lodge 154 in Pitt­s­burgh. “I went for­ward and asked oth­er people to vote for this pres­id­ent, but all I want is for [the reg­u­la­tions] to be put in the hands of Con­gress. I think it’s the job of Con­gress to put a bill [for­ward] and let them de­bate what should go on here. I don’t think the EPA should be set­ting the stand­ard for what’s go­ing on right now.”

The lone pan­el par­ti­cipant, apart from the law­makers, not from a coal back­ground was Dan Weiss, seni­or fel­low and dir­ect­or of cli­mate strategy for the pro­gress­ive Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress Ac­tion Fund; he was a last-minute ad­di­tion to the hear­ing lineup.

Weiss offered a coun­ter­point to the con­cerns ex­pressed by Ventrone, Brock, and oth­ers, ar­guing that EPA reg­u­la­tions were un­likely to have dire im­pacts.

Sub­com­mit­tee mem­bers waited for the wit­nesses to fin­ish be­fore chim­ing in. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., voiced sup­port for the de­ploy­ment of car­bon cap­ture and se­quest­ra­tion, oth­er­wise known as clean-coal tech­no­logy. “For coal to have a fu­ture we need to in­vest in the tech­no­lo­gies that al­low us to burn that coal cleanly,” Doyle said. “What this Con­gress should be do­ing is a mis­sion-to-the-moon pro­ject on re­search on how to deal with this is­sue.”

Rep. Phil Gin­grey, R-Ga., on the oth­er hand, cri­ti­cized the pres­id­ent for al­low­ing the reg­u­la­tions to go for­ward. “I want to thank Chair­man Murphy for hold­ing this hear­ing to ex­am­ine the im­pact that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s con­tin­ued — and make no mis­take about it, war on coal is what it is — is hav­ing on loc­al com­munit­ies,” Gin­grey said.

The hear­ing fol­lowed a rally on the west lawn of the Cap­it­ol protest­ing EPA reg­u­la­tions tar­get­ing coal-fired power plants and came one day after the re­lease of a dis­cus­sion draft of le­gis­la­tion in­tro­duced by Rep. Ed Whit­field, R-Ky. and Sen Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to block pro­posed reg­u­la­tions that would lim­it car­bon emis­sions from fu­ture power plants.

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