Sens. Rockefeller opposes global warming action, joins Sen. Manchin attack on EPA effort to reduce mountaintop removal mining damage

December 20, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

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.

7 Responses to “Sens. Rockefeller opposes global warming action, joins Sen. Manchin attack on EPA effort to reduce mountaintop removal mining damage”

  1. Thomas Rodd says:

    As I see it (I could be wrong), the best way to reduce the economic harm to West Virginia that will inevitably result from reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions is to enact legislation that will put a price on those emissions — like the cap-and-trade system that could not pass the Senate last year.

    As Senator Rockfeller stated when he was here with Energy Secretary Chu, such legislation will generate huge numbers of clean energy jobs, and huge amounts of money for carbon capture and sequestration research and implementation that will allow coal to be safely burned, albeit to a lesser degree and at greater cost than today.

    West Virginians who care about the future well-being of the state and the planet are rightfully looking to Senator Rockefeller for more than delay. We need and I think can expect to see leadership from a thoughtful and well-informed man who understands the seriousness of our situation.

  2. PlethoDon Juan says:

    From Sen. Manchin: “The EPA should strongly consider the negative consequences such an unprecedented decision would have on our fragile economy.”

    Perhaps. However, does this approach/justification apply in the reverse? If the economy was booming, should the EPA regulate and enforce clean water act regulations at a higher standard and with greater vigor? If a poor economy is a reason to rape the environment then we are already lost. One cannnot preserve the environment and destroy or extract from it at the same time. Once again this sounds like the doublespeak excuses of an abuser. But I guess this kind of talk placates most of voting public.

    I believe West Virginians (and all Americans) should strongly consider the negative consequences such everyday decisions have on our fragile environment.

  3. Taylor says:

    Great point, PDJ. Let’s remember this if in fact the economy does ever “boom” again.

  4. Greenspace says:

    “Balance” is the key term. We need to preserve both the environment and the economy, and resolve conflicting interests with rational comprimises. These are huge issues – our national policy must come from our elected representatives, rather than from any single government agency with a narrow agenda. Last I heard, this was still a democracy.

  5. Thomas Rodd says:

    Greenspace, your posts ignore the law passed by Congress that requires EPA to take action. Unless Congress changes that law EPA is required to regulate carbon emissions. That’s called democracy and your posts suggesting that it’s not are wrong and unfair.

  6. Greenspace says:

    Who makes the law, and refines it as nesessary to protect the balanced interests of our country? Our elected officials. Not EPA. Some of EPA’s more zealous recent moves are based upon internal guidance or policy, not the “law”. In some cases, they’ve gone too far, and its likely they’ll soon be reeled back in.

  7. Thomas Rodd says:

    Greenspace, as Ken has directly pointed out here on several occasions, the rather conservative United States Supreme Court has directly approved of EPA’s regulation of atmospheric carbon emissions as fully authorized under the laws enacted by Congress.

    Your points about EPA using “guidance and policy” go to the issue of regulating the water quality from surface mining, an entirely different issue than the carbon emissions regulation area, which is where Rockefeller is quite honestly trying to change the law that the EPA is following — to delay any regulations.

    It is misleading to confuse the two issues, and it is unfair to call EPA’s actions in regulating carbon emissions undemocratic. Ignoring the truth to score rhetorical points, which is what it seems you may be doing, does not advance the honest dialogue that this blog is trying to encourage.

    Your response?

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