The 85 members of the Virginia General Assembly who are standing up in support of the Commonwealth’s embattled yet still robust coal industry are to be applauded for their actions. The lawmakers announced Tuesday that they are forwarding a letter to President Obama voicing their opposition to controversial new rules aimed at reducing carbon emissions at coal-fired power plants.

More than 45,000 Virginians still work in the coal industry, and they now face an uncertain future. And many counties in the Commonwealth are still dependent upon coal taxes for as much as 25 percent of their annual budgets. However, new Environmental Protection Agency rules proposed by the Obama administration threaten to shutter coal-fired power plants across the state and nation, including the Glen Lynn plant in Giles County.

In order to meet the proposed new standards, coal-fired power plants would need to install expensive technology to capture carbon dioxide and bury it underground. Opponents of the new rules argue that no coal-fired power plant has done that yet, in large part because of the cost. And they argue that even the Southwest Virginia-based Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center in Wise County — touted as one of the cleanest coal-fired power stations in the nation — could not be constructed again today under the proposed new EPA rules.

Having 85 state-level lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — stand up in opposition to these new federal rules is certainly welcomed. And it is our hope that this announcement will send a strong message to Washington.

“We think it is important that President Obama understands how important the coal industry is to Virginia’s economy and how harmful these proposed regulations will be for Virginia if they are put in place,” Sen. Phil Puckett, D-Russell, said. “More than 45,000 Virginians work in the coal industry and their livelihood is at stake. They deserve to have their voices heard.”

Puckett was joined by Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Galax, Delegate Will Morefield, R-Tazewell, Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, Delegate Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon, and Delegate Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol, at the press conference announcing that 85 members of the General Assembly have now signed the letter of opposition. The lawmakers were joined by a delegation of state and business leaders at the press conference, including representatives of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance.

The group sent a strong and unified message.

The old argument that state lawmakers don’t have a say on federal issues doesn’t carry a lot of weight nowadays. In fact, we believe state lawmakers who are not willing to stand up and challenge the federal government when their states are adversely impacted by new federal rules or mandates are failing to properly represent their constituents.

The fact of the matter is that the EPA rules will adversely impact the coalfield counties of the Commonwealth. And when thousands of jobs are threatened, the impact will be felt across the state. That is why we are pleased to see both Democrats and Republicans standing up for what is right in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

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