W.Va. Gov. Tomblin easing up on coal rhetoric?

January 8, 2014 by Ken Ward Jr.


Photo via governor’s website video stream.

If you were watching or listening closely to tonight’s State of the State address, you might have noticed what is at least a slight change in the tone of West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s rhetoric about the coal industry and the Obama administration’s policies. Here’s what the governor said:

Serving new markets for coal, Carbonyx, a Texas-based company, will invest tens of millions of dollars in a new Jackson County plant. This new development will create 60 jobs in its first phase. The plant will make a carbon alloy replacement for coke, a key ingredient for steelmaking. And best of all, Carbonyx will use West Virginia coal in its manufacturing process.

To keep our coal industry alive and well—and I promise you we will—we must continue to seek out new markets and uses for it, while doing what we can to help the industry reduce costs, and be more productive, efficient, safe and environmentally friendly.

While I will never back down from the EPA because of its misguided policies on coal, we should remind ourselves a challenge doesn’t always lead to confrontation. Last summer I sat across the table from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and shared our story. We have been hit hard. But with planning and perseverance I believe the obstacles can be overcome. 

That highlighted part really struck me, both when I read the embargoed prepared text provided to journalists, and when I watched Gov. Tomblin deliver the speech. So I went back and compared those comments to his previous State of the State addresses. Clearly, the governor tonight said less about the coal industry and its problems than in his earliest State of the State three years ago. And, he appears to have backed off the rhetoric — at least a little bit.

If you want to compare yourself, here are the appropriate portions of his previous speeches:

The 2011 State of the State address:

As we move to diversify and expand our economy, we cannot forget one of the cornerstones of our State – the production of our natural resources. The appropriate use of natural resources can serve as a strong foundation for West Virginia’s economic future.

We all know that coal keeps the lights on. But we cannot forget – or let others ignore – that it is vital to the economic and national security of our country to utilize West Virginia’s natural resources. According to recent studies, coal means 63,000 jobs to West Virginia and over twenty-five billion dollars to our State’s economy.

And it’s not just about West Virginia. Our Country relies on coal for almost half – HALF – of all its electric generation. Coal-fired electricity costs 1/3 than that of other forms of generation. In these tough economic times, we should be looking for more ways to use coal, not less. It is hard to understand why some people want to turn their back on and vilify such an important resource that has such potential – and a proven track record – for our Country.

Do not misunderstand my message – the fact that coal has such a positive impact for West Virginia and our country does not mean that we should turn a blind eye to safety or environmental concerns. I firmly believe that we can mine coal in an environmentally safe manner. And, I firmly believe that we will develop ways to burn coal in a carbon-friendly manner.

But what we cannot stand for is a mentality that ignores the realities of the world we live in. While the rest of the world moves toward industrialization and the use of coal-fired generation, our own federal government seems focused on bringing a crushing halt to one of the cheapest, most reliable forms of energy we have ever known. And if we turn our back on coal while other nations use it, all we are doing is continuing to give other nations additional economic advantages over America.

The 2012 State of the State address:

Let me now speak very directly about one of my problems with Washington.

As long as I am Governor I will continue to fight this administrations war on coal! A few months ago, a federal court agreed with our lawsuit and ruled that the federal EPA had in fact overstepped its authority. I will keep fighting until Washington recognizes that one of the keys to America’s future is the use and promotion of our natural resources. It is a fight from which I will not shrink, and one that I fully expect to win!

The 2013 State of the State address:

We also cannot forget an industry that has been an integral part of West Virginia—and that is our coal industry. This industry continues to enable West Virginia to be a national leader. The dedication of coal miners is the work that built our State and the work that sustains it. I believe in the production of coal, its value to our country, and I will continue to do everything that I can to fight the EPA and its misguided attempts to cripple this industry.

3 Responses to “W.Va. Gov. Tomblin easing up on coal rhetoric?”

  1. Cindy Rank says:

    What was also noticeable during the Governor’s speech was the lack of enthusiastic applause at every mention of coal.

    I suspect that the toned down approach taken by the governor may not be shared by the legislature…as evidenced by your previous post re: the House Democrats’ agenda for this session that points to an even greater than ever focus on energy issues in the form of faster permitting and creating additional committees to address environmental and health and safety issues that duplicate committees already functioning — though perhaps not living up to expectations of industry or other affected parties (http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2014/01/08/house-democrats-agenda-for-w-va-such-as-it-is/)

    While i appreciate the upbeat and positive and tone of the governors speech, the real work of the legislature involves much more down and dirty negotiating about some of the issues the governor only mentioned in passing.

    He wove his theme of gardening throughout the entire speech and yet never mentioned the need to support stronger protections for the water and air needed for producing healthy food for people who grow and eat from those gardens.

    If WV DEP has its way more and more West Virginia gardens will be struggling with water polluted with higher levels of aluminum and selenium and other pollutants allowed to be discharged from mine sites and gas drilling sites …. Even now people living below mountaintop removal mine sites are advised against eating vegetables raised in their gardens which are showered daily by rock dust and blasting chemicals. There have been several presentations at interim committee meetings that indicate our new Marcellus gas drilling legislation is far from perfect and that air, water and siting provisions need to be improved before we boast about it being a model for the region. And there are more and more studies that show negative health impacts to people near mountaintop removal mine sites and horizontal gas well sites and waste disposal sites. (http://acheact.org/a-c-h-e-science/ and http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/12/17-2 and the Sustained Outrage post at http://blogs.wvgazette.com/watchdog/2013/12/16/study-looks-at-drilling-hormone-disrupting-chemicals/)

    It may be a grand gesture that the governor recognize individuals who have achieved much and given much to their communities and various lines of work, but i live for the day our governor includes recognition and high praise for someone – private citizen or legislator or industry mogul – who dares to fight for, and achieve, stronger regulation and better protection for the air, water and earth that will sustain a healthy West Virginia garden for current and future generations.

  2. Jim Sconyers says:

    Tomblin still touts coal and vows that the “obstacles can be overcome.” Obstacles: he’ll put more thick coal seams into the ground? He’ll ban cheap Wyoming and Illinois coal?

  3. Diana Bandelow says:

    How many people have to suffer at the hands of coal before state officials do something?! Isn’t their sole purpose in their roles to ensure the safety of those who voted them into office?? Or is their alliance solely to big coal and big business?

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