WHEELING - Sen. Joe Manchin says he will push for creation of a national energy policy as the new chairman of the Senate Energy Committee's Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining.
Manchin, D-W.Va., acknowledged educating the public - including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - about the importance of coal also will be a major part of his job.
"This administration has pushed away fossil fuels in every way they can," Manchin said. "Yet they are dependent on coal, and they don't want to admit it. Under my jurisdiction, at least our voice will be heard."
In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said if Congress did not pass climate control legislation, he would seek to impose the measures through executive orders - a move opposed by Manchin. Manchin added he was disappointed Obama didn't talk more about coal in his speech.
"Thirty-five percent of the energy we use in this country comes from coal - it's our largest source of energy in this country," Manchin said. "They (the Obama administration) act like it is non-existent, and that's just not reality ...
"The United States burns less than one-eighth of the coal consumed in the world, less than a billion tons," he continued. "If the people really believe if we stop burning every lump of coal in America that will clean up the environment, that makes no sense at all. They are in total denial."
In West Virginia, people "don't want dirty air or water," he continued.
"We don't have it - we have cleaned it up," Manchin said. "We could do more if the federal government would do more to help us. That's where I come from."
Manchin this week was appointed subcommittee chairman by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.
The subcommittee has jurisdiction, including oversight and legislative responsibilities, over national mining and minerals policy; general mining laws; surface mining, reclamation, and enforcement; mining education and research; federal mineral leasing; public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service; and the establishment of wildlife refuges on public lands and wilderness designations.
"I really, really wanted this," Manchin said of the chairmanship. "We're going to make sure we exercise all three branches of government. We'll work with the White House, but they will have to work with us, too."
Manchin believes the Energy Committee as a whole, chaired by Wyden and ranking minority member Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, will be able to achieve "a true energy policy."
As for whether Reid, D-Nev., will be an obstacle to reaching the subcommittee's goals, Manchin said, "I don't think so."
"If we have to do an education job with Harry and the Senate leadership, we will educate them, too," he said. "If they are not being realistic about the facts, that's what I'm going to do."