Coal Tattoo

When we last left our friend Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., he was pushing for a vote before the end of the year on his bill to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from taking action to deal with global warming.

Well, Sen. Rockefeller failed in that effort, and the Senate declined to take up the matter, prompting this comment from West Virginia’s now senior senator:

The EPA regulations that take effect starting in January offer questionable greenhouse gas reductions at the expense of business certainty and economic growth – and I know we can do better.

In the face of a January launch date, I think it is irresponsible to wait any longer – we must call a timeout on these regulations.

That prompted a great headline over at the Climate Progress blog:

Rockefeller: Preventing action on global warming “is too important for us to delay any further”

And, it drew this commentary from Brad Johnson at The Wonk Room:

Meanwhile, the disaster of global warming pollution grows. “The first nine months of the year have seen the highest number of weather-related events since Munich Re started keeping records,” Peter Hoeppe, an expert from Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research department warned — including a flooding disasters in West Virginia in March, May, and June, followed by disastrous drought. Antarctic sea ice is being melted by a radically warming ocean. Phytoplankton populations are collapsing. And the rate of ocean acidification the fastest in 65 million years.

And yet Sen. Rockefeller, whose family fortune was built upon oil and has received over $800,000 from the fossil industry in campaign contributions, says that preventing the United States from even beginning to slow the pollution is what cannot be delayed.

And to follow this all up, today  Sen. Rockefeller joined with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to issue another complaint about the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce the damaging impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining — specifically the EPA’s efforts to revisit the largest such permit in West Virginia history.  A press release from Sen. Manchin’s office said:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) today jointly sent a letter to the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Lisa Jackson, urging the agency not to veto the Spruce No. 1 Mine permit.

The Senators’ letter states that, “We understand that EPA has a specific mandate from Congress, and that ensuring the economic stability of our Nation is not part of the Agency’s mission. However, the environment and the economy are not mutually exclusive, and the context of our country’s current economic situation must not be ignored. We believe strongly that EPA should seek an appropriate balance that will protect the environment, as well as secure the strength and security of this Nation. A veto of the Spruce No. 1 Mine permit is not in the best interests of West Virginia or our Nation. Therefore, we strongly urge you not to veto this permit when you make your final determination.”

“For some time now, the EPA has been waging a war against Appalachian coal mining that is costing us American jobs and investment,” Senator Manchin said. “I believe in preserving the environment, but there has to be a balance. The EPA should strongly consider the negative consequences such an unprecedented decision would have on our fragile economy. If the EPA takes the unprecedented step of retroactively denying a lawfully issued permit, it will cost our state jobs and there will be a national chilling effect on this kind of investment.”

“For over a year, I have been extremely concerned about potential EPA action to veto the Spruce No. 1 Mine permit,” said Senator Rockefeller. “The Spruce No.1 Mine has made good faith efforts to comply with all applicable laws and regulations, and this permit was issued by the Army Corps of Engineers almost four years ago. This has been going on for too long – it is wrong and unfair for the EPA to change the rules for a permit that is already active.”

The Senators note that, “We have publicly opposed the actions EPA has taken in relation to this permit, and we disagree with how the Agency has interpreted its authority pursuant to Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. We believe it is unwise to place a mining permit under additional scrutiny after it has been rigorously reviewed, lawfully issued and active for over a year.” The Senators further highlight the negative economic impacts that would occur on both the state and national level if EPA revokes a permit after the permit was lawfully issued, stating that this action will “undoubtedly undermine any confidence businesses may have that the government will honor its promises and protect investments.”

The Mingo Logan Coal Company is expected to invest an additional $250 million in the Spruce No. 1 Mine and estimates that the project will create more than 200 additional jobs with benefits, with the average salary including benefits being $65,000 per year.

This letter, following one by W.Va. House members Nick J. Rahall and Shelley Moore Capito, comes just after a state Environmental Quality Board hearing last week in which leading experts on mining’s impacts on water quality testified in detail about the damage being done by mountaintop removal:

Board members set aside four full days this week for the hearing. Expert witnesses for the Sierra Club will include biologists Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland and Emily Bernhardt of Duke University, two of the authors of a study earlier this year in the prestigious journal Science, which concluded mountaintop removal’s damaging impacts are “pervasive and irreversible.”

Palmer testified Tuesday afternoon that peer-reviewed scientific literature clearly shows adverse water quality impacts downstream from coal-mining operations.

“There have been a lot of studies that have shown a pretty clear relationship between mining and stream impairment,” Palmer told board members. “There are a lot of papers.”

Not for nothing, but I wonder if the Senate had been voting this weekend on something about the coal industry if Sen. Manchin would have been too busy attending a holiday party

And as for Sen. Rockefeller, I’ll point readers again to my previous post, Can Sen. Rockefeller lead on global warming? As the senator said not so long ago:

Burying one’s head in the sand is not a solution, and can only backfire.