U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.) addressed members of the Logan Rotary Club in Logan, W.Va., this Wednesday, May 27th, 2009. Rahall joined the Rotary Club to discuss concerns about the future of coal in West Virginia. Text of the Congressman Rahall's remarks follow:
Remarks of U. S. Rep. Nick Rahall
Logan Rotary Club
May 27, 2009
Thank you Randy for that great introduction. I thank Rotary President Michael Winter and all of the members of the Logan Rotary Club for inviting me to be with you this afternoon. I also want to recognize Ron Lemon and Christy Hensley who helped to coordinate this event.
I appreciate everyone being here today, particularly as work continues to get life back to normal after our severe flooding.
In recent weeks, I have heard from an awful lot of people from all over southern West Virginia who are worried. Most immediately, they have expressed worries about the flooding and their homes. I was glad that the White House responded so quickly to my request for emergency designation, and I will continue to press for recovery assistance as needed.
But a lot of people have also expressed long-term worries about the future of coal, the future of the economy, of their jobs, and of our communities.
I well understand that. These are uncertain times. And whenever there is uncertainty, rumor rushes in to fill the void. And rumor often fuels concern and anger.
So I have been trying to talk above the whispering and the rumors to calm worries and provide some information. I hope that I can do more of that today. Then, hopefully, we can begin to refocus on moving forward, on building our infrastructure, broadening our economic base, and keeping this area the wonderful place it is to work and to live.
To provide some perspective about the state of concerns, I want to look back to early April, when the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would begin, once again, weighing in on mountaintop mining permits.
Under the law, that is what EPA is supposed to do, and for many years, that is exactly what it did do. But for the last 8 years, it turned a blind eye to the permitting process. So EPA's return to its duty under the law caused a lot of alarm. And it certainly did not help that some of the media erroneously reported that EPA was putting an end to mountaintop mining.
I want to assure everyone within the sound of my voice today that Nick Rahall did not take this matter lying down. I immediately began working with numerous Administration officials, as well as industry officials - including area coal companies - and the United Mine Workers.
I met in my office with officials of the Army Corps of Engineers.
I met in my office with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
I met with EPA Office of Water Chief of Staff Greg Peck.
I met with White House Council of Environmental Quality Chairperson Nancy Sutley.
I even talked with my former colleague in the House and now the current White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel.
In each of those meetings, I expressed the need for all the entities to get on the same page, to provide clarity and certainty, so that the industry, our miners, and our mining communities know exactly what is expected of them.
In each of those meetings, I received assurances. The Obama Administration knows that it cannot turn its back on coal. It understands the role of coal, both to our economy and to our energy needs. This Administration knows that coal will continue to be a major part of America's energy mix and a key fuel for low-cost power all around the world for a long time to come.
In addition, EPA officials explicitly committed to working with industry as the agency continues to clear the long backlog of about 200 mining permit applications.
That backlog resulted from years of litigation and conflicting court decisions, leaving no one clear about what the rules were supposed to be.
However, after a decision in February by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, overturning a 2007 ruling by the Federal District Court in Southern West Virginia, the agencies restarted their work to review those permits.
And two weeks ago, in response to my request, the EPA confirmed that of the 48 backlogged mining permits the agency has received from the Corps and has reviewed, it has expressed concerns about only six. Only 6, and just three of those are in West Virginia.
As the Corps, the EPA, and other agencies continue their work to whittle down that backlog, there will be some delays due to manpower limitations and there are certain to be more that will be flagged for additional review.
However, I will continue to closely monitor the situation and to press for the agencies to act as expeditiously as possible, while also protecting our coal mining communities.
Now, on a slightly different note, but one that has struck a sour chord with much of the coal industry, is the matter of national efforts to address climate change.
Over the past week, as many of you may know, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held markup sessions and passed a bill aimed at shaping America's response to climate change.
I know there is a lot of trepidation around here and throughout the coal industry about the prospect of any government program to reduce carbon emissions. I get that, and I share many of those concerns.
So while I am on a roll today addressing rumors, let me clear up a few other misconceptions. First, I have heard the unpleasant-sounding terms "carbon tax," and "national energy tax," used pretty loosely recently. The bill in the House does not impose a carbon tax, as many of the bill's detractors who want to scare us half to death claim.
Instead, it would create a market-based cap and trade system. This is the kind of approach usually advocated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It is designed to encourage the private-sector to use its talents to reduce emissions. This is the very same approach used successfully in the 1990's to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions and address acid rain.
I do not, by the way, buy into the notion advocated by some that we have to replace good coal mining jobs or good manufacturing jobs with so-called green jobs as part of our response to climate change.
In this economy, we need all the jobs we can get - whatever their color.
The better approach, as I see it, is to preserve those existing jobs while enabling them to become greener - and given America's vast capacity for innovation, that is absolutely doable. In that respect, the bill includes provisions authored by Rick Boucher, which I supported, to provide $10 billion to help advance carbon capture and sequestration technologies that are badly needed to ensure that coal will continue to be used in a lower carbon economy.
I am not, to be clear, a Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and I have not yet taken a position on that bill.
But I have been closely monitoring it and working with industry and labor, and listening to the people of southern West Virginia, to try to ensure that coal is treated in a realistic and balanced fashion. And you should know that there has been some progress in that regard.
Still, I suspect many of you are sitting here wondering why anyone from coal country would even consider supporting a bill to put caps on carbon emissions. In response, I offer these three letters - E-P-A.
As the result of a 2007 Supreme Court decision - a George Bush Supreme Court, I point out - the EPA has been ordered to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.
So if the People's directly elected representatives in Congress do not act, bureaucrats in some basement room at EPA will. You can bet on it. The only question is how long the EPA can wait for the Congress to pass a plan before the agency has to take matters into its own hands.
The National Mining Association knows that. The UMWA knows that. The Steel industry knows that. The auto industry knows that. And that is exactly why they are all working with the Committees of the House and Senate to try to mold a bill that they can all ultimately support.
In the coming weeks, you will hear a lot of scary stories about this bill, most of it coming from people who have not read it, who don't understand it, and who have not even glimpsed its cover.
But I will be there in the House. I will be pressing your case, as I always have, and before any bill can be finalized, the Congress and this Administration will hear loud and clear exactly where the people of southern West Virginia stand. In the midst of all the rumor, and innuendo, and uncertainty, that is one thing of which you can be absolutely certain.