Sen. Rockefeller Addresses Coal’s Future

[imgbelt img=jay.gif]Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia says talk of a “war on coal” is leaving coal miners “in the dust.” The coal industry and its political supporters are using “scare tactics” that are a “cynical waste of time, money and worst of all coal miners’ hopes.”


A message from the Rural Assembly

So here we are with another all-or-nothing resolution destined to fail.  This foolish action wastes time and money that could have been invested in the future of coal.  Instead, with each bad vote they give away more of their leverage and they lock in failure. 

This time the issue is whether to block an EPA rule – the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS or Utility MACT) – that requires coal-fired power plants to reduce mercury and other toxic air pollution.

I oppose this resolution because I care so much about West Virginians.  

Without good health it’s difficult to hold down a job or live the American dream. Chronic illness is debilitating and impacts a family’s income, prosperity and ultimately its happiness.

The annual health benefits of the rule are enormous.  EPA has relied on thousands of studies that established the serious and long term impact of these pollutants on premature deaths, heart attacks, hospitalizations, pregnant women, babies and children. 

Moreover, it significantly reduces the largest remaining human-caused emissions of mercury–a potent neurotoxin with fetal impacts.

Maybe some can shrug off the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics and others but I cannot.

This rule has been in the works through a public process for many years.  Some businesses – including some utilities in West Virginia – already have invested in technology and are ready to comply.

Others haven’t prepared – because they have chosen to focus on profits rather than upgrading or investing in these smaller, older and less efficient coal-fired plants that were paid for decades ago and that they’ll tell you would be retired anyway. 

That’s right.  Every single plant slated for closure in West Virginia was already on the chopping block from their own corporate boards within several years.

It’s important to be truthful to miners that coal plants will close because of decisions made by corporate boards long ago – not just because of EPA regulations, but because the plants are no longer economical as utilities build low-emission natural gas plants.

Natural gas has its challenges, too – with serious questions about water contamination and shortages and other environmental concerns.  But while coal executives pine for the past, natural gas looks to the future –investing in technologies to reduce their environmental footprint.  And they’re working with others on ways to support the safe development of gas – and we will all be watching.

It’s not too late for the coal industry to step up and lead by embracing the realities of today and creating a sustainable future.  Discard the scare tactics.  Stop denying science.  Listen to what markets are saying about greenhouse gases and other environmental concerns, to what West Virginians are saying about their water and air, their health, and the cost of caring for seniors and children who are most susceptible to pollution. 

Stop and listen to West Virginians – miners and families included – who see that the bitterness of the fight has taken on more importance than any potential solutions.   Those same miners care deeply about their children’s health and the streams and mountains of West Virginia. They know we can’t keep to the same path.

Miners, their families, and their neighbors are why I came to West Virginia and they are why I made our state my home.  I’ve been proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with coal miners and we’ve done a lot of good together over the years.

For more than 20 years, I’ve worked to protect the health and safety of coal miners – everything from the historic Coal Act, to mine safety laws, pensions, and Black Lung benefits – always with miners’ best interest in mind.

And despite what critics contend, I’m standing with coal miners today by voting against this resolution.

I don’t support this Resolution of Disapproval because it does nothing to look to the future of coal.  It does nothing to consider the voices of West Virginians.  It moves us backward, not forward.  And unless this industry aggressively leans into the future, coal miners will lose the most.

Beyond the frenzy over this one EPA rule, we need to focus squarely on the real task of finding a long-term future for coal that addresses legitimate environmental and health concerns. 

Let me be clear. I’m frustrated with some of the top levels of the coal industry, but I’m not giving up hope for a strong clean coal future. To get there, we’ll need a bold partner, innovation and major public and private investments.

In the meantime, we shouldn’t forget that coal fired power plants provide good jobs for thousands of West Virginians. It remains the underpinning for many small communities and I will always be focused foremost on their future.

Instead of finger pointing, we should commit ourselves to a smart action plan that will help with job transition opportunities, sparking new manufacturing and exploring the next generation of technology.

None of this is impossible. Solving big challenges with American ingenuity is what we do. West Virginia knows energy and West Virginia doesn’t shrink from challenge.  We have the chance here to not just grudgingly accept the future – but to boldly embrace it.


A message from the Rural Assembly