Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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January 5, 2014

Legislators in the coalfield region vow to continue support for coal

BLUEFIELD — The Virginia General Assembly and the West Virginia State Legislature will both convene on Wednesday with separate challenges facing the law-makers of the Old Dominion and the Mountain State. However, at the Legislative Point of View breakfast on Friday, the two-state representatives united behind one four-letter word — coal.

“The issue that I have with the people who are against coal is simple,” Virginia State Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, D-Russell said. “We have an environmental movement that is against burning coal. I ask them if there’s anybody who can tell me how you’re going to replace 40 percent of the energy in this country, I’ll listen.

“It would not be possible right now to replace 40 percent of the energy we use in this country,” Puckett said while alluding to recent reports that Japan is increasing its reliance on coal and fossil fuel power plants instead of nuclear power generating plants. “We’re not in the position to replace 40 percent of our energy.

“I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d rather have a coal mine under my house than a nuclear plant in my back yard,” Puckett said.

Bluefield businessman, K.A. Ammar Jr., had sat through the hour-long presentation during the breakfast that was sponsored by the chambers of commerce of both Bluefields, Princeton-Mercer County and the Tazewell, Va., area before asking his coal question. “The underlying economy of this area is coal and coal, period. We all know that. It’s being attacked on the federal level,” Ammar said.

“I’ve read that foreign countries are converting from nuclear energy to coal,” he said. “There is going to be a demand for coal in the future. We can talk about a million things in here. Germany and Japan are converting from nuclear to coal. We need the state to speak up. I’d like to see all of you speak up for coal.”

State Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer immediately spoke up concerning a West Virginia law — HB 103 — that is a cap and trade law that will become law in 2015. “I think it’s disingenuous for state legislators to have that law.” Gearheart said that he asked if the law meant that the state would mine and burn less coal and said the response was yes. He said his second question involved electric utility rates, and he was told they would be higher.

“I entered a bill last year,” Gearheart said of legislation that would eliminate the cap and trade bill. “I am going to force a vote on the House floor. The members of the House will have to take it up on the floor if they don’t take it up in committee.”

“It’s a non-partisan concern,” State Delegate John H. Shott, R-Mercer said. “The Attorney General (Patrick Morrisey) is challenging the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) overreach concerning coal mining permits. While these issues take time to develop, the coal caucus in the state legislature remains active. We meet regularly.

“I think you’re right about the future of coal,” Shott said in response to Ammar’s prediction that the coal business will improve. “The best coal in the world for making steel is right here. I think the future is bright for metallurgical coal. And yes, I have read that Japan is switching to coal.”

State Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer agreed with Ammar and said that “coal id a mainstay” for the region and state. “Since natural gas production has been growing in the northern part of the state, some of the attention has slipped off coal production in the southern part of the state.” He said he was opposed to the idea of the federal regulators changing the rules on coal mining permits.”

Puckett said that in Wise County, Va., Dominion Power’s Virginia City took 8 years to design and build, and added that it is retrofitted to meet all the changing regulations . “It’s a $2.3 billion plant and it blows the socks off of all the air board’s requirements,” Puckett said. “We can do this and we can do it with coal.”

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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