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W.Va. Democrats unload on Obama EPA over new layoffs in coal industry

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A truck passes a political sign in a yard in Dellslow, W.Va., on Oct. 16, 2012. Rhetoric about the administration’s alleged “war on coal” has come to dominate conversation this campaign season. Coal miners and their employers are allies in a rhetorical war playing out across eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and all of West Virginia. The message: They now face a common enemy — the federal government, especially the president and the Environmental Protection Agency. (AP Photo/Vicki Smith)

West Virginia Democrats are “outraged” with President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, which has now cost the jobs of nearly 150 coal miners in the state.

Energy giant Consol announced Tuesday that it will idle its surface mining operations in Mingo County after failing to secure necessary Clean Water Act permits from the EPA.

The Miller Creek surface mine facility has been in operation for decades, and the company had planned to construct the new “King Coal Highway” as part of a reclamation project after mining is complete. Coal mine employees, Consol said, would eventually have been assigned to the highway project, once the coal supplies had been exhausted.

Democrats in the state, already angry with the administration’s “war on coal,” unloaded on the EPA on Tuesday afternoon.

“I am incensed and infuriated that the EPA would intentionally delay the needed permit for a public-private project that would bring so many good jobs and valuable infrastructure to communities that so desperately need them,” West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said in a statement.

Mr. Manchin has been one of the loudest critics of Mr. Obama’s environmental policy. He skipped this year’s Democratic convention, and, in one of his campaign commercials, literally shot a hole through the controversial cap-and-trade bill.

“This project is a win-win and the EPA is trying to make it a loser,” he continued.

Mingo County officials have estimated that the mine and King Coal Highway projects could over the next 15 years created as many as 2,500 new jobs and supported the development of about 2,000 acres of land.

Consol President Nicholas J. DeIuliis said in a statement Tuesday that the company has been working to secure the necessary environmental permits since 2007, with no success.

“Once again, the EPA has stepped in the way of a great project here in West Virginia,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, said Tuesday in a joint statement with fellow Democrats Mr. Manchin, Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Rep. Nick Rahall. “The EPA cannot seem to understand the big picture and the true scope of its authority.”

The quartet of state Democrats pledged to fight the EPA and try to get the Miller Creek mines back up and running and the highway project moving forward.

“I will continue to work with our senators and our governor as we present a united front in an effort to knock some common sense into EPA,” Mr. Rahall said.

Consol’s layoffs come on the heels of similar moves across Appalachia, and growing anger in that region toward the “war on coal,” a term appearing on lawn signs, billboards, bumper stickers and T-shirts throughout the region.

Last month, Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources announced it would cut 1,200 jobs and shut down eight mines in West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Over the summer, Arch Coal, one of the nation’s largest producers, announced plans to shutter several operations and lay off more than 700 miners.

Earlier this month, about 5,500 people attended a “rally for coal” in Grundy, Va., where an airport-extension vital to Southwest Virginia’s economic development has been held up for years because of a dispute with federal regulators over what is an airport and what is a coal mine. The Washington Times reported earlier this month about local officials’ three-year battle with the U.S. Office of Surface Mining over regulatory hurdles to plans to extend the runway at Grundy Municipal Airport.

About the Author

Ben Wolfgang

Ben Wolfgang covers the White House for The Washington Times.

Before joining the Times in March 2011, Ben spent four years as a political reporter at the Republican-Herald in Pottsville, Pa.

He can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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