Wednesday, November 11, 2009

W. Va. political leaders seek united voice on coal

After a two-hour, closed-door meeting among coal-industry officials and some of West Virginia's top political leaders, Gov. Joe Manchin, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, and Reps. Nick J. Rahall and Shelley Moore Capito said they would join forces to seek a high-level meeting to raise coal industry concerns to the Obama administration. The politicians pledged to speak with "one voice" to clarify the administration's attempts to more strictly regulate mountaintop coal mining, Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette reports.

"It's about the economy of West Virginia," Manchin said at a news conference following the meeting. "We're just trying to find that balance right now." Rockefeller explained that President Obama wouldn't necessarily have to be present at the White House meeting, but someone who could provide "good, hard information" about the Environmental Protection Agency's goals would. Rahall added: "We need to know what the rules of the game are. We need clarity. We need EPA to get its act together."

If they're looking for a clue, the West Virginia folks might look across the Big Sandy River into Kentucky, where EPA, the Louisville District of the Army Corps of Engineers, state and federal regulators, coal interests and an environmental group seem to be reaching consensus on how mountaintop mines will be engineered, permitted and regulated. Or maybe they've already looked and don't like what they see. We reported it last week.

Capito, the only Republican in the group, said West Virginia politicians must cross political lines to achieve their goal: "I think unified voices are always louder and stronger." Representatives of Sen. Robert Byrd attended the meeting, Ward reports, but no one from Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan's office was present. County commissioners from various coal counties, several United Mine Workers representatives and more than a dozen top industry executives also attended the meeting, scheduled at the request of Logan County Commissioner Art Kirkendoll. (Read more)

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