WASHINGTON – Rep. Evan Jenkins told the head of the Environmental Protection Agency she cannot understand the damage her agency’s policies have had on West Virginia until she visits and sees for herself.
“Administrator, West Virginians are a proud people,” Jenkins, a Republican, told Gina McCarthy during an EPA budget hearing March 22 with the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. “We want to work. We want to provide a better future for our children. Let us do the work we have done for generations – work that provides good paychecks and keeps the lights on.
“And until you actually visit the coalfields of West Virginia, you will never understand the impact of your actions.”
He then asked McCarthy if she had visited West Virginia since she became the EPA administrator in 2013.
“I cannot recall,” she replied.
“I know you were invited, so since you refuse to come to West Virginia, you simply don’t understand, in my opinion, how your agency has devastated my state,” said Jenkins, who represents the state’s Third Congressional District that includes Huntington and the southern coalfields. “Here’s what life is like for many families in southern West Virginia.
“Coal jobs have plunged more than 50 percent in just the last five years. You know, these are good jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage for a coal miner is over $84,000 per year. Compare that to our state’s average wage, which is less than $37,000 a year.
“Coal jobs provide a true, living wage that support a family. Coal jobs also come with really good benefits – a pension and health care benefits a retiree can count on. But not anymore. The bankruptcies of our country’s largest coal companies have left pensioners and widows desperate for help.
“And because of your actions, West Virginia now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the entire country.”
Jenkins went on to discuss how he had been sharing stories of West Virginia families on the House floor as part of his West Virginia Coal Voices project. And he told a few such stories to McCarthy, who did not respond.
You can read the entire transcript of the exchange – and watch a video – online.
After the hearing, Jenkins said he wanted to take advantage of his unique position on the subcommittee to talk directly to McCarthy because that will be her last such hearing under the Obama administration.
“We wanted to put a real voice and a real face to the devastation and destruction that this administration in general and Gina McCarthy in particular have caused,” Jenkins said. “As a member of the House Appropriations Committee and the Interior Subcommittee, I am one of only 11 members of the House of Representatives who oversee the EPA budget.
“I led the charge for this current year budget, and we took almost a half a billion out of the president’s proposed 2016 budget for the EPA. We found in the current year budget the president was asking for tax dollars to pay for a climate change theatrical play. We said no. We said no to funding an army of new lawyers at the EPA to fight against the good lawsuits like the ones like (West Virginia Attorney General) Patrick Morrisey has brought against EPA regulation.”
Jenkins said he felt fortunate to be able to “tell her directly to her face” what the EPA’s actions have done to West Virginia.
“I wanted to use that just to be a voice for the people of West Virginia, for the people of the Third Congressional District and the people who have suffered so much from the War on Coal,” he said. “Am I passionate about it? You bet I am. I get emotional.
“You can’t help but be when you’ve spent time with people in southern West Virginia who have lost their homes, their cars, their jobs and, sadly, even their families. I told her three stories. I’d love to tell her more. There are thousands.”
Jenkins butted heads with McCarthy last year during the budget hearings about the EPA’s overreach. But he wanted to change focus this year.
“Now, that this is the final chapter of Obama’s War on Coal, rather than argue, I wanted her to hear the pain,” he said.
He also commented on president candidate Hillary Clinton’s recent comments during a town hall meeting when she said “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
“When I heard that, what came to mind was, ‘Here we go again’ because in January 2008, Barack Obama on the campaign trail for president said if anybody wants to build a new coal-fueled power plant that they can, but the government would bankrupt them,” Jenkins said. “He tried to cover his tracks and say there was a future for coal. But, he’s done everything he can to kill coal. And those bankruptcies he promised, well they came true. Many large coal companies have gone bankrupt.
“Now, Hillary in an unscripted but I suspect candid and honest statement, said she intends to put a lot of coal miners out of work. Here we go again. She’s trying to cover her tracks.”
But, Jenkins said Clinton has said multiple times she fully embraces Obama’s environmental agenda.
“That means no coal for the future,” Jenkins said. “Bernie Sanders also has said he would double down on the Clinton climate agenda. He has gone so far as to say we should have no fossil fuel for electric generation. Think about that … no coal or no natural gas. How devastating to an energy state like West Virginia is that?
“If you think about who we are, what we do, neither Hillary nor Bernie provide any hope for the future for an energy state like West Virginia.”