MORGANTOWN - A face-to-face meeting with the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency creates an opportunity to "hit the reset button" when it comes to coal, several West Virginia Democrats who traveled to Washington said Thursday.
House Speaker Tim Miley, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and other Democratic Party leaders met with Administrator Gina McCarthy during her first week on the job, timing they consider significant.
The previous director received three letters from Tomblin during her tenure, Miley said, but the governor never got either a response or any acknowledgment that the letters had been received. McCarthy's reception on the day she was officially sworn in "speaks volumes to her willingness to try to understand."
MEETING — New U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, center, reacts while greeting Bob Valair, director of energy and environmental management for Staples Inc., left, after delivering a speech at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass., Tuesday. West Virginia officials are meeting with McCarthy on the issue of coal. -- Associated Press
"I believe we'll have the opportunity to hit the reset button and have a constructive dialogue," Miley said.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall said McCarthy made some comments about the need for coal that are "a source of some encouragement."
"However, the proof will be in the pudding," he said, "and our delegation made abundantly clear that there must be greater equity between environmental goals and economic needs."
Tomblin told McCarthy hundreds of West Virginians are now out of work due to EPA's "overzealous, ideological, and financially devastating policies" that have helped shut down coal mines and coal-fired power plants.
He said McCarthy promised to have an open dialogue and consider the economic impact of EPA's policies, something that the Republican members of West Virginia's congressional delegation - Reps. David McKinley and Shelley Moore Capito - have also demanded.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin called the meeting "very respectful, direct and, I think, productive," noting it gave McCarthy personal perspectives on various EPA policies, regulations and decisions that he said have hurt the coal industry and the people who depend on it.
Coal is an affordable, reliable energy source the U.S. will depend on for decades to come, Manchin said, and trying to regulate it out of existence makes no sense.
"I told them that 'the war on coal' is not an optical illusion, that it was real," he said. "It's not just a war in West Virginia or this country, but it's a war around the world."
Joining Miley and Manchin were West Virginia Coal Association Vice President Chris Hamilton, 2nd District congressional candidate Nick Casey and several other party leaders.
The delegation invited McCarthy to visit West Virginia to see first-hand the impact the EPA has on the coal industry.
"She didn't confirm right there," Manchin said, "but I think we can make that happen."