U.S. senator

Here in West Virginia, coal mining isn’t just a way of living — it’s a way of life. It pays bills, lights homes and feeds families, and it also is a binding source of pride for those who work in it, know it and respect it. I am one of those proud West Virginians — I always will be. And I will always fight for our miners, our jobs and our economic future.

West Virginians are well aware of the big showdown in Congress that pits the Environmental Protection Agency and rules on greenhouse gas regulations against the interests of our coal miners.

This battle among the EPA, coal and energy companies, Congress, the president and our entire state delegation is on the front page of papers. Recent votes in Washington have not settled the issue but, when taken together, show that there is a path forward.

For as long as I have been in the Senate, I have fought for coal miners — for their safety, their health care, their retirement, and their jobs. We have stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the front lines of some pretty tough fights — during which I have always focused on practical solutions and a willingness to engage head-on those who oppose us.

For me, today’s battle involving the EPA is no different.

The EPA has reducing coal emissions in its sights, and the fact is that right now the law is on its side. In 2007, the Supreme Court essentially decided that greenhouse gases must be regulated and directed the EPA to take action.

The problem is that EPA’s mission is not focused on the economy of West Virginia or any other state. The EPA doesn’t fully consider the impact on jobs in states like ours. Nor does it consider the essential role that coal plays in our energy supply, making up almost half of the electricity in the U.S.

Congress, which is elected by the people and for the people, should be the one to balance helping the economy with protecting the environment — not the EPA or any other federal agency.

In West Virginia, we understand coal emissions need to be reduced. And we want to use new technologies that can make coal cleaner and give coal mining a solid future.

So the task before us is to fix the law. And with only 16 coal states in the U.S. and a politically divided government, fixing the law can only happen by bringing the two sides together around a smart, targeted solution. More extreme proposals might feel good for the moment, but they won’t get the job done.

For more than a year, I have been gaining momentum on a bill that would have stopped EPA regulations for two years — to give Congress the time to come up with a smart energy policy that pushes development of clean-coal technologies, protects the economy and jobs in states like ours and reduces emissions.

My bill — a two-year timeout on EPA regulations and enforcement — is cosponsored by every member of the West Virginia delegation and last year was strongly endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Chemistry Council and more than 20 other business and industry associations representing millions of jobs in West Virginia and across the country.

I heard from them in meeting after meeting that this bill hit the “sweet spot” — it eliminated the impact on our economy of a rush to regulate and it was the best and only proposal on the table that had a real chance of being passed and enacted into law given the reality of divided government.

But when it came right down to it, some of those national groups and almost every Republican senator switched their position — knowing they would lose, and the problem would go unsolved, in order to send a “message” and score political points. The option some people kept talking about from Senator McConnell of Kentucky was nothing more than a red herring — an unrealistic distraction from my solid plan.

Well, OK, message sent; points scored; EPA regulations still moving forward. Now, can we please get back to solving real problems for real people?

The good news buried in the votes last week is that my prediction was right — taken together, there were a filibuster-proof 67 senators who voted for some kind of limits on the EPA, including 17 Democrats. That’s real progress for coal, and we can build on it — as long as we don’t let the partisan naysayers bring us down.

If it were as simple as just telling the EPA to go away, we would have done that. Instead, calling a timeout on EPA regulations is a real solution that can help West Virginia right now. It’s not the wish list for either big business or the environmental groups. But it’s the best shot we have of preventing the EPA from wrecking havoc on our economy and grabbing hold of a brighter future for cleaner coal.

Coal mining is a way of life in West Virginia; it’s a cornerstone of our heritage. It some ways, it defines us. But there is no going backwards, so we in West Virginia have to fight smartly — together — to win the way forward.

Jay Rockefeller has served as a U.S. senator representing West Virginia since 1984.

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