Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin delivers the State of the State Address on Wednesday. Behind him are Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler and House Speaker Rick Thompson.
CHARLESTON -- State Sen. Earl Ray Tomblin, acting as West Virginia's governor, in his State of the State address on Wednesday night said he intends to "aggressively pursue" the state's lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
"We should be working together to solve our nation's energy problems -- not taking dogmatic approaches that turn a blind eye to any form of reasonable regulation," Tomblin said.
"West Virginians want to play a part in solving our nation's energy problems, and all we are asking for is a meaningful seat at the table."
Former Gov. Joe Manchin, now a U.S. senator, announced in October that the state was filing a lawsuit against the Obama administration over its attempts to curb mountaintop removal in West Virginia. At the time, Manchin said the actions "absolutely will harm" the economy and cost the state jobs.
The state's suit challenges the EPA's regulatory plan that the agency says will eliminate valley fills and its "attempts to destroy the coal-mining industry and our way of life," Manchin said at the time.
"Through a series of questionable and unlawful actions, the U.S. EPA has implemented policies and procedures that have delayed the permitting process and halted the issuance of new mine permits," Manchin said.
He said the EPA has "usurped" the authority of the state and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to oversee and regulate certain aspects of the state's environment, including water quality.
"Again, (the) U.S. EPA has done this without any legal authority, and in so doing has relied on questionable scientific studies that have not been adequately peer reviewed or presented to the state and coal mining community for comment," Manchin said at the time.
"They have proven that they are trying to regulate what they can't legislate."
West Virginia's lawsuit seeks to abolish the agency's "rigorous" reviews of Clean Water Act permits and to block the federal government from implementing tougher water quality standards.
It also challenges whether federal officials follow the proper procedures before enforcing the new standards announced last spring.
In his Wednesday address, Tomblin called the production of West Virginia's natural resources "the cornerstones" of the state.
"The appropriate use of natural resources can serve as a strong foundation for West Virginia's economic future," he said.
"We all know that coal keeps the lights on. But we cannot forget -- or let others ignore -- that it is vital to the economic and national security of our country to utilize West Virginia's natural resources."
Tomblin pointed to recent studies showing coal provides for 63,000 jobs in the state and more than $25 billion to the state's economy.
"And it's not just about West Virginia. Our country relies on coal for almost half -- half -- of all its electric generation. Coal-fired electricity costs 1/3 than that of other forms of generation.
"In these tough economic times, we should be looking for more ways to use coal, not less. It is hard to understand why some people want to turn their back on and vilify such an important resource that has such potential -- and a proven track record -- for our country," he said.
Tomblin said he "firmly believes" that coal can be mined in an environmentally safe manner.
"But what we cannot stand for is a mentality that ignores the realities of the world we live in," he said.
"While the rest of the world moves toward industrialization and the use of coal-fired generation, our own federal government seems focused on bringing a crushing halt to one of the cheapest, most reliable forms of energy we have ever known.
"And if we turn our back on coal while other nations use it, all we are doing is continuing to give other nations additional economic advantages over America."
The state's suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Charleston by the state Department of Environmental Protection. Named as defendants are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Army Corps of Engineers.
Also in his Wednesday address, Tomblin said the state's "top priority" must be to continue to improve its business climate "to attract, retain, and create good paying private sector jobs."