Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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June 24, 2012

War on coal Rockefeller’s vote disappointing

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s decision not to support a measure aimed at stopping the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s job-killing overreach is both surprising and disappointing.

Rockefeller was the lone senator from our region to vote against the Inhofe Resolution of Disapproval, an important measure that would have blocked the EPA from setting the first federal standards to reduce toxic air pollution from power plants.

The controversial new rules target older oil-and-coal fired power plants. Existing coal-fired power plants would have three years to meet the far-reaching standards for mercury and other toxic air pollution.

Opponents of the measure, including U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., correctly argue that the new EPA rules will put thousands of hard-working Americans out of work while also raising electricity bills during the worse economy in generations.

 Manchin, along with U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., all voted in support of the Resolution of Disapproval. Rockefeller inexplicably opposed it. The measure ultimately failed by a vote of 53 to 46 in the Democratic-controlled Senate — thus leaving the future of coal-fired power plants in America in jeopardy.

Manchin said research from the Electric Power Research Institute and the National Economic Research Association conclude the Utility MACT, or Mercury and Air Toxic Standards, will cost the U.S. economy up to $275 billion over the next 25 years while also killing 1.3 million jobs over the next two decades.

What was Rockefeller thinking? The veteran West Virginia lawmaker argues that the three-year time frame for existing power plants to comply with the new rules is mandated by the Clean Air Act, which he says was amended under former President George H.W. Bush in 1990. OK.

But then he goes on to suggest that carefully orchestrated messages by outside groups who are purchasing paid television ads, billboards and other media outlets are seeking to “strike fear into the hearts of West Virginians and feed uncertainty” about coal’s future by declaring coal is under siege, or under attack.

We disagree with parts of that statement. We believe coal is under siege and is under attack.

Outside groups are pumping millions of dollars — and will continue pumping millions of dollars into attack ads as we get closer to November — linking all Democrats to the war on coal and President Barack Obama in particular. Is that a fair strategy? Not really. But look at what just happened. The Democratic-controlled Senate defeated a measure that would have protected oil-and-coal fired plants.

So it would appear — based upon last week’s vote anyhow — that a majority of Democrats in the Senate may not have the best interest of coal in mind. Obama was quick to applaud the Senate Democrats, including Rockefeller, adding they cast a vote against dangerous pollution. The dangerous pollution of course being coal.

We applaud Manchin, Webb and Warner for standing up for coal-and-oil-fired plants and against the far-reaching new EPA rules. Rockefeller’s vote, however, is a concern.

In a press release, Rockefeller says the coal industry today would rather attack false enemies, and deny real problems than find solutions. We don’t believe the EPA is a “false enemy.” All one has to do is look back at what the EPA has done over the past four years since Obama was elected.

The EPA’s record speaks for itself. It’s a job-killing record that is not friendly toward coal and other fossil fuels.

We realize Rockefeller has been a friend of coal miners across the Mountain State. We realize that few people in Washington have fought harder for coal miners, and black lung benefits for coal miners, than Jay Rockeller. His record speaks for itself.

That’s what makes his vote last Thursday on the Resolution of Disapproval so disappointing and so out of sync with his record.

Why has Rockefeller suddenly changed his tune about coal? Why is he bending to the demands of the Obama administration? Why isn’t he putting West Virginia, and coal miners across the Mountain State, first.

In the future, we would hope Rockefeller would refrain from voting along party lines — just as Manchin, Webb and Warner did — and do what is right for West Virginia and Virginia, and those hard working coal miners and their families across southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia who are fighting to keep their jobs.

As an elected lawmaker, Rockefeller is expected to put his constituents — and not his political party — first.

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