I’m trying to figure out if Logan County Friend of Coal Art Kirkendoll got what he wanted out of today’s two-hour, closed-door meeting between West Virginia political leaders and executives of most of the state’s major coal producers.
We’ve posted a news story on the event, West Virginia leaders seek coal answers from White House, on the Gazette’s Web site. As the lead says, the outcome of the meeting is some sort of friendly agreement among Gov. Joe Manchin and the state’s congressional delegation to speak “with one voice” to try to clarify what the Obama administration is up to on coal policies.
Everybody seemed to agree with the comments from the two coal executives Manchin invited to address the press in the Capitol during a “media availability” after the meeting — which was moved at the last minute from a public conference room in the Capitol building to the “party tent” Manchin had erected adjacent to the governor’s mansion for social events.
Patriot Coal President Paul Vining and CONSOL Energy President Brett Harvey both said that the U.S. EPA is changing the rules regarding Clean Water Act permits for strip mines, and the industry just wants to know exactly what those rules are now.
Their remarks (there are quotes from both in my print story) were a far cry from the yelling and shouting by hundreds of coal miners at the now-infamous Corps of Engineers permit hearing/pro-coal rally.Vining and Harvey didn’t sound much like state Sen. Majority Leader Truman Chafin, either. Vining even appeared to acknowledge the conclusions of a previous Coal Tattoo post, that is, that there isn’t an immediate permit crisis that calls for immediate action by EPA:
We’re very concerned about our employees in the long term. It may not be next week or next month.
Not that Vining and his company aren’t concerned. He told reporters that Patriot Coal now employs 600 to 800 fewer employees in West Virginia:
I’m not implying that’s because of permits. It’s because of economic conditions. But as we add more uncertainty, it adds that much more risk.
Also interesting was that Rockefeller said that the White House meeting West Virginia leaders are seeking doesn’t have to be a face-to-face with President Obama — something Manchin had previously sought.
The press conference struck me as one of these times when everybody was trying to be on their best behavior. Rockefeller put it this way:
We’re tired of the yakking. We’re tired of people screaming at each other. Honest dialogue is what’s needed.
Manchin did slip up once and start down the road of talking about the federal government “usurping the power” of the state. I’m told that during the closed-door meeting, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito actually asked what the state could do to force EPA to return West Virginia’s “sovereignty.”
After the meeting, Rep. Nick J. Rahall told me that he continues to believe that EPA is doing its job by reviewing Clean Water Act permit applications pending before the federal Army Corps of Engineers:
What we’re into here is the implementation and enforcement of the Clean Water Act by EPA as the law gives them the right to do.
Rahall said that previous failure by EPA to enforce the law was part of what led to environmental group lawsuits that bottled up permit issuance by the Corps of Engineers.
Rahall and Capito, the only Republican member of the state’s congressional delegation, agreed on one thing: That they want to get the political component out of the discussion of the future of coal mining.
Rahall said: “We have to get beyond the premise that this is about politics.”
Capito said: “It really doesn’t matter the politics of it. It’s all about these folks and the people they employ and the communities they live in.”
But there was one big elephant that wasn’t in the room when those comments were made … Massey Energy President Don Blankenship attended the closed-door session, but did I didn’t see him at the press conference, and he certainly didn’t go to the podium and speak.
And over at the West Virginia Red blog, here’s what one of Blankenship’s former political operatives wrote that today’s meeting was supposed to be about:
The environmental extremists don’t get it. Today’s meeting is not about saving the environment or finding some balance between mining coal and saving salamanders. This meeting is about formulating a strategy to combat the Obama administration’s assault on coal and the mining industry.
Most of the environmental groups that are supportive of the Obama administration’s policy on coal have no desire to find a compromise between the coal industry and the environment. The end goal for them is to completely eliminate coal, coal mining, and mining jobs from our state and country’s energy mix.
It’s very simple to understand. You don’t invite people who are trying to destroy your industry or business to a meeting where you plan to discuss the course of action required to save your industry.
For example, can you imagine the President inviting Taliban representatives to the meetings he his currently hosting to formulate our strategy in Afghanistan? The environmental movement has no desire to see the “big bad” coal operators, their employees, and their shareholders do well. The environmental movement wants to kill the coal industry.
There are also rumors swirling about the political implications from today’s meeting. Environmental extremists are speculating that one or more of the conservative Democrats at today’s meeting is considering a primary challenge against Congressman Nick Rahall. Others speculate that a high profile Democrat could switch parties and take on Rahall as a Republican.
Congressman Nick Rahall deserves a Democrat primary challenge; after all he has said the Environmental Protection Agency is just doing its job. Rahall has grown more liberal and more confident as his seniority in the House has grown. He has lost touch with the Democrats and West Virginians he represents in Congress.
I don’t know what was said during the closed-door meeting … but I know this isn’t what West Virginia’s political leaders — including Rep. Capito, who is certainly pretty popular with the West Virginia Red blog crowd — were telling the press after the meeting.
And last, but most certainly not least in all of this: While we don’t know where Sen. Robert C. Byrd is going to come down on all of this exactly (his West Virginia staff director, Anne Barth, declined to speak at the press conference), Sen. Rockefeller had some mighty interesting things to say about whether increased regulation and limitation of mountaintop removal is needed:
It isn’t going to be the same as it always has been. We have to make adjustments.
I don’t think so much about mayflies, but I do think about those people [who live downstream]. There will have to be adjustments.