Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 15, 2009

Coal supporters seek answers

By Bill Archer

BLUEFIELD — When he addressed Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Thursday morning during a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing on Capitol Hill, U.S Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., felt it was important to get a clear statement from the administrator.

“I thought it was important to set the record straight,” Rahall said Thursday afternoon during a telephone interview from his office in Washington, D.C. “I think it is important for her to say that neither she nor the EPA is out to stop coal mining in the Appalachian region.”

Rahall stated in a press release that Jackson, “concluded that coal can be mined safely and cleanly, and in a way that minimizes the impacts on water quality, and that she believes the EPA has a role and responsibility under the Clean Water Act to speak to those issues and only those issues.”

Rahall said that he had an additional meeting scheduled with Jackson later Thursday afternoon to discuss the same issues. “Her desire is to meet with the industry,” Rahall said. “She has staff in the state today meeting with Randy Huffman (cabinet Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection),” Rahall said.

“In my opening remarks this morning, I said this issue has gone on for a long time,” Rahall said. “This is not new.” He added that he is seeking “clarity and certainty in the regulations that EPA is imposing through the Clean Water Act.”

Dan Pochick, president of Rish Equipment in Bluefield was troubled by the images he saw Wednesday night when a crowd of 700 to 800 people — mostly coal miners and their families — waited in line to get into the Charleston Civic Center to get the opportunity to plead with their own government to save their jobs.

“There was an American flag on the stage, and here were all these coal miners and their families, many of whom had probably worked all day on Wednesday and waited in line just to plead with their own government to protect their jobs and their way of life,” Pochick said. “We weren’t in Iran or in some other foreign country. We were here in our country. I just don’t think that’s right.”

Pochick admitted that he is biased on behalf of the coal industry, but pointed out that 40 percent of West Virginia’s coal production comes from surface mines, and that coal’s economic impact on almost every aspect of the state is vital.

“With the lack of new nuclear plants, new coal-fired power plants and tighter restrictions on coal mining permits, I just don’t know where this country is going to get its energy from,” Pochick said. “The EPA can say anything, but their actions belie their words. They want to suspend the Nationwide Permit 21 and that would further delay the process.”

In the meantime, other federal, state and regional lawmakers are working to preserve coal mining jobs. On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Frederick C. “Rick” Boucher, D-Va., submitted a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking them to consider a three tiered permitting system to replace the NP 21 permits that would protect the environment “while allowing essential coal mining activities that support economic growth to continue,”

West Virginia State Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, wrote a letter to Jackson urging her to expedite the decision. “We have every right to wonder and worry if coal mining will be part of our future as it has been a part of our past,” Tomblin wrote to Jackson.

The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority approved a 5.6 million grant for the development of the Southern Gap Regional Business Park in Buchanan County, but also passed a resolution in support of the coal industry’s use of the NO 21 permits in the Appalachian region.

“In the 20 years this organization has helped bring new industries and diversification to the region, the coal mining industry remains the single most important economic engine in the region, providing thousands of direct and indirect jobs and highly critical economic impacts,” VCEDA chair Jay Rife was quoted in a press release as stating.

– Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com