LOGAN – West Virginia Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin, along with U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins held a field hearing at Chief Logan Conference Center to discuss the local impact of the EPA’s climate regulations.
Local officials and West Virginians testified on the impacts of EPA regulations and the effects of President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan on coal production, employment, air quality and community wellness, climate and local government operations.
Capito, who is the chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, said the hearing was a very important hearing, as it was being held in an area that is deeply affected by the EPA’s regulations.
“It is important that we hear from all sides of this issue,” she said. “Coal jobs are good jobs and they support other jobs. Before today, no one has came to this region to discuss the issue and we are glad to be here today.”
Manchin said the regulations are hindering and dismantling the economy in West Virginia and that the EPA has been overstepping its boundaries time and time again.
“We have a minimum of six counties in a depression—not a recession,” he said. “We’ve lost 13,000 coal jobs since 2008.”
Manchin said the ripple effect of the loss of coal jobs has affected the lives of West Virginians daily.
“West Virginia has helped power the nation for decades,” he said. “We have done the heavy lifting and our lives are on the line. They’ve turned their backs on us.”
Manchin said West Virginians have got to fight.
“The federal government has jumped on our back and they are trying to drown us,” he said.
Jenkins said the hearing was a unique opportunity for West Virginians’ voices to be heard.
“Times are tough in Logan County because of the war on coal,” he said. “The war of coal is affecting so many—not just coal miners. It is affecting small businesses, police and fire departments and schools, and so many others.”
Five witnesses were invited by the EPW committee—three for the majority and two for the minority. Those witnesses included Eugene M. Trisko, counsel to United Mine Workers of America; Jimmy Dale “Bo” Copley II, a former coal miner from Delbarton; Robert E. Pasley, the Wayne County Commission president; Karan Ireland, the West Virginia Solar United Neighborhoods program director; and James M. Van Nostrand, a professor of law at West Virginia University College of Law and the director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development.
Trisko said 96 percent of electricity is coal in West Virginia.
“All industries will suffer if this rule is passed,” Trisko said. “Less than one third of the coal in West Virginia actually stays in this state.”
Pasley pointed out that after the closures of Argus Energy and Rock Spring Development in 2013, schools suffered.
“Argus had a partnership with Dunlow Elementary, and Rock Spring with East Lynn Elementary,” Pasley said. “The mines provided playground equipment, new signs and things for the classrooms to those schools. They were always willing to help when asked. The schools have suffered a severe blow because of the mines closing.”
Copley, a 39-year-old former coal miner who worked for Arch Coal, said so many commercial businesses closed when the mines began to close.
“Our entire state feels the ramifications of the decline in the industry,” he said.
Ireland said when she started with WVSUN one year ago, it was almost impossible to get a West Virginia company to place a bid for solar energy. In the last year, that has changed.
“I think we need to take advantage of energy sectors while we still have a chance,” Ireland said. “We owe a debt to coal miners and compliance with the EPA does not mean, right now, ‘no coal.’”
Van Nostrand said the state has the resources to succeed and that with solar energy and wind energy getting better, West Virginians can make a fair living.
“I don’t want West Virginians to make just a fair living,” Jenkins said. “I want West Virginians to make a good living.”
Capito said the litany of anti-coal regulations put forward by the Obama administration does not just impact coal companies.
“It impacts every vendor in the supply chain, every coal miner and their family, and every community where fewer incomes mean fewer sales and less revenue,” she said. “Coal jobs are good jobs, but these jobs have been under attack, and bankruptcies in the coal industry have jeopardized promised heath care benefits to retired miners.”
Capito said today’s hearing provided a platform for those most directly affected by the administration’s harmful regulations to have their voices heard.
“The EPA never came to West Virginia when it crafted these regulations,” she said. “Today’s hearing accomplishes what the EPA was never willing to.”
Capito and Manchin also welcomed a $171,805 award for West Virginia University from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration. The funding will support mine rescue and mine emergency preparedness efforts.
WVU is one of six organizations receiving funding through the Brookwood-Sago Grant Program, which promotes mine safety, while honoring the West Virginia miners lost in the 2006 Sago Mine disaster.
The program was created by the MINER Act, which Capito introduced while serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The award will enhance mine safety by funding the development and implementation of a series of realistic mine safety training exercises.
“Coal mining is a proud tradition here in the Mountain State, but it is not without risks, and I cannot stress enough the importance of mine safety,” Capito said. “This funding will allow WVU to invest in training programs that will equip mine rescue teams and fire brigades with the right tools.”
Manchin said as governor during the Sago, Aracoma and Upper Big Branch disasters, he said first-hand the need for increased mine safety standards.
“Following those disasters, I fought for stronger mine safety practices and equipment to protect our miners and make sure they come home to their families every day,” Manchin said. “A strong mining industry begins with a strong commitment to the safety of our miners. For many West Virginia families, mining is a way of life and has been an important part of our state’s culture and livelihood for decades. I’m pleased to see WVU receive this funding that will enable them to continue investing in programs that better prepare our mine rescue teams.”