By EARL RAY TOMBLIN

CHARLESTON -- Coal mining always has been an important part of West Virginia.

It is woven into the very fabric of our state's culture and it is vital to our economy.

The coal mined in our state provides the energy to fuel our needs at home as well as the needs of our nation.

West Virginia is essential to the nation's economy.

Recently, I spoke at a hearing before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources. It was an important opportunity to restate my position in defense of the coal mining industry and to appeal to the committee, and to Congress, to end legislation through regulation by the EPA and the Office of Surface Mining (OSM).

The EPA's obstruction of mining permits and a proposed rule by OSM threaten the very existence of the coal industry, not only in West Virginia, but across the nation. At the hearing, representatives from Ohio, Virginia and Wyoming spoke about the consequences of the rule change that OSM is considering.

If enacted, OSM's proposed re-write of the Stream Buffer Zone rule will drastically reduce coal production in West Virginia and across the nation. In fact, the draft environmental impact statement projects a 30 percent decrease in production in the Appalachian basin alone; a potential loss of 10,000 jobs; and substantial reductions in severance and income taxes.

While national leaders plead their case for more jobs, the agencies under their authority seem determined to drastically increase unemployment in our region.

We, here in the great state of West Virginia, do not seek subsidies or handouts. We want to continue to work at the jobs we love, and continue doing what we've done for decades, by providing our nation and the world with the energy and industrial fuel it needs to pull itself out of a global economic recession. Industries fueled by West Virginia coal provide the wages and taxes that support our states and communities.

West Virginia is leading the nation with the help of coal -- let us now take a great step forward and use our coal to lead the world forward into a prosperous new era.

Tomblin is West Virginia's governor.

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