By PATRICK MORRISEY
CHARLESTON – As West Virginia’s Attorney General, it’s my duty to stand up for the legal rights of our state and its people.
That’s why when President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency launched an aggressive assault last June to impose onerous federal regulations requiring states to reduce carbon dioxide emission by a staggering 30 percent in 15 years, which would do significant harm to our economy, my office launched an equally aggressive assault to block them.
We have helped to develop a coalition of 15 states to fight this unlawful power grab by anti-coal Washington bureaucrats.
Earlier this week, a three-judge panel decided that because the Administration has yet to formally finalize the rule, it was too early to decide the case on its merits. While we were disappointed in this outcome, we believe this early effort exposed the weaknesses of the EPA’s arguments, which will help us later on as we press this case.
Once the rule is finalized, which is expected to occur later this summer, we can continue our fight – and it’s important we do.
This rule has already caused real harm to West Virginia. As I travel this state, I meet people who have lost their jobs and are struggling with what to do next.
Power companies are deciding to shut down coal-fired plants instead of retrofitting them to comply with regulations. Mines are shutting down because they’re losing the customers to sell coal to.
At 7 percent, West Virginia now has the second-highest state unemployment rate in the country. For more than a year, our state’s unemployment rate has been rising while the national rate has declined.
On the county level, unemployment rates are higher than 8 percent in 26 counties and greater than 10 percent in 12 of those counties, many of them in coal country.
Our state’s labor force now stands near its smallest size since the early 1990s. Decades of economic progress have been erased as thousands of West Virginians drop out of the labor force.
And it’s not just our hard-working coal miners who are losing their jobs. The pain is now beginning to extend to other professions.
Many professions that have traditionally done business with coal operators are laying off workers and downsizing their offices. This means fewer well-paying, professional jobs are available for this year’s class of college graduates, meaning they – like too many classes before them – will have to leave the state to find work.
This is not a problem being faced only in the rural coalfields. In downtown Charleston, for example, office vacancies are near their highest level in a decade. That puts pressure on the property owners who have worked to improve the business climate.
Our state Department of Revenue has said sales tax collections are beginning to slow, a sign consumers are losing confidence in the economy and cutting back spending at retail stores. That could mean more job losses at local shops and small businesses.
Yes, there are uncontrollable market forces at play that have pressured the coal industry. But the EPA and Obama Administration’s anti-coal policies in recent years have pushed us beyond the typical boom-and-bust economic cycle of coal. This is an attempt to permanently bankrupt an entire industry – a campaign promise this President is determined to fulfill.
These policies are not just hurtful, they are illegal and fly in the face of Congress’s intent when lawmakers wrote the Clean Air and Clean Water acts.
That’s why my Office will continue to not just fight, but take the lead on challenging these unlawful regulations head-on in court until our last legal avenue has been exhausted.
We owe it to the people who have gone underground and labored long and hard hours in order to keep our lights on to make sure their livelihoods are protected and that they’re able to continue putting food on the tables for their families each night.
We owe it to the future college graduates, who want to live and work in the state they’ve grown up in and love. We owe it to everyone who strives to work hard and better themselves and the lives of those around them.
That’s what we’re standing up for – people’s livelihoods and a brighter tomorrow for all West Virginians.
It’s a fight I’m intent on winning.
Morrisey, a Republican, is West Virginia's Attorney General.