Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 17, 2013

War on coal — W.Va. offensive long overdue

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Lawmakers in Charleston are finally taking the offensive as it relates to Washington’s war on coal. Their actions are long overdue, but welcomed.

In a near unanimous 99-0 vote, lawmakers in the House advanced legislation last week that would let coal operators avoid federal fines if levels of selenium are unacceptable. House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, says the legislative offensive would help to avoid a chilling impact on the industry. The same measure cleared its first hurdle in the Senate Tuesday with passage in the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Delegate Rupie Phillips Jr., D-Logan, allows flexibility in the amount of selenium in water at mine installations. Rather than hitting coal operators with steep fines that could shut down their operations, Miley told the Register-Herald in Beckley that production could go on under the proposed legislation, but owners would be obligated to keep monitoring water quality and taking samples through the Water Research Institute at West Virginia University.

The existing standards allow 20 millionths of a gram per liter for acute discharges, and five millionths of a gram in chronic discharges. Miley says the bipartisan measure is needed “so the coal industry is not crippled if there is a violation of those standards.”

Lawmakers believe the allowable level of selenium is currently far too low.

“It’s just another tool the environmentalists and Environmental Protection Agency used to try to shut coal down,” Phillips said last week.  “It’s time to draw a line in the sand and push back.”

If a homeowner turned a garden hose from a dwelling’s water supply into a stream in their backyard, they would be breaking the law under current allowable levels. And that’s simply ridiculous.

“That water coming to your house has a higher level of selenium in it than what the coal companies are trying to put in the streams,” Phillips added.

Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, went so far last week as to quote a physician who told him that extra doses of selenium are prescribed for prostate cancer patients.

“Selenium occurs naturally in the body,” Moore said. “It occurs in foods. And there are comprehensive, validated studies that don’t indicate anything to the contrary about selenium. Where I live, mining is the key to everything we do. I have to make sure that our mining industry is preserved. I don’t think the level of selenium we approved can create a clear and present danger to anyone, any time, for any reasons.”

The West Virginia lawmakers are to be applauded for finally take a stand in support of coal, and against unrealistic environmental standards set so high that they are largely unachievable.

To say that lawmakers on the state level can’t fight the federal government in its war on coal is a fallacy. And the legislation advanced last week by lawmakers in the House is a good start as it relates to protecting Mountain State coal against unrealistic federal mandates.