W.Va. reacts to ruling on stream protection

Officials throughout Appalachia and the coal industry are reacting following Monday’s announcement by the Obama administration of final rules aimed at protecting 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests from any impacts of coal mining.

Among those promising quick legal action against the Interior Department’s Stream Protection Rule was St. Clairsville-based Murray Energy Corp., the nation’s fifth-largest coal producer. The company believes the rule effectively outlaws underground longwall mining.

“This unlawful and destructive rule is nothing but a thinly-veiled attempt to destroy our nation’s underground coal mines and put our nation’s coal miners out of work,” said Murray spokesman Gary Broadbent. “The Stream Protection Rule has been illegally taken from the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 in which Congress specifically said, at least three times, that the law applies only to surface coal mining. We will immediately file our already prepared lawsuit to block this illegal rule.”

West Virginia and Ohio’s Republican attorneys general, Patrick Morrisey and Mike DeWine, issued a joint press release, saying they are “closely reviewing the regulation and will take appropriate legal action to safeguard the states’ interests.”

Coal already is struggling under steep competition from cheaper and cleaner-burning natural gas, as well as regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas pollution that contributes to climate change.

U.S. coal production has fallen to its lowest level in nearly 30 years, and several coal companies have filed for bankruptcy protection in recent months, including three of the country’s biggest coal producers, Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal and Peabody Energy.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the rule part of Obama’s “eight-year war on coal” that he said has cost jobs and hurt coal miners and their families. He and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said they look forward to working with Trump to provide “relief” to coal communities hard-hit by the industry’s downturn.

McConnell said he will introduce a resolution of disapproval under the rarely used Congressional Review Act to overturn the stream-protection rule and vowed to “use every tool available to turn back this regulatory assault on coal country.”

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota also criticized the rule, which can be rejected by a majority vote in Congress.

Manchin called the rule “alarming in its scope and potential impacts” and said he will “pursue legislation to ensure it does not harm our coal mining communities and economies.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., vowed to block the Interior Department’s rule from taking effect.

“Fortunately, the decision by voters last month makes today’s announcement by the Office of Surface Mining an exercise in futility,” she said. “Working with President-elect Trump and our Republican congressional majority, I am confident that we will be able to use the Congressional Review Act to stop this rule from taking effect.”

Also vowing Monday to overturn the rule were U.S Reps. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and Bill Johnson, R-Ohio.

“This action is outrageous,” McKinley said. “The (rule) is yet another attack on the coal industry and this administration’s final shot in the war on coal before President Obama leaves office.”

“At least a third of coal-related jobs across the United States are now at severe risk due to the fact that this rule … essentially deems such a plentiful amount of coal economically infeasible to mine … ,” Johnson added. “The people of coal country and across America voted in November, and they voted to protect coal, coal-related jobs and our way of life. I will continue to fight tooth-and-nail to protect jobs in eastern and southeastern Ohio, and to work with the incoming administration and House leaders to overturn this ill-advised, job crushing rule.”

The negative reaction to the rule from coal industry officials was swift and severe. The West Virginia Coal Association called on Republican President-elect Donald Trump, who has pledged to put out-of-work coal miners back on the job, to overturn the rule.

“We are hopeful that Congress and the incoming Trump administration will take swift action to overturn this irresponsible regulation as quickly as possible,” said WVCA President Bill Raney. “We look forward to working with West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey should legal action by the states be necessary to prevent this job-killing regulation from taking effect.”


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