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Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, I rise to give voice to the people of eastern Kentucky who are hurting due to this administration's war on coal.
Recently, I traveled to Pikeville, KY, in the central Appalachian coal fields to hear firsthand from coal miners, their families, those in the energy industry, and others about how their communities are being ravaged by EPA's excessive, overly burdensome regulations on coal.
The EPA didn't want to listen to these folks. I tried to get the EPA to have a hearing in eastern Kentucky, and they refused. So I did it. I held this listening session to put a human face on the suffering that is being felt in Appalachia due in large part to this administration's war on coal. I want to share with my colleagues just a little bit of what I heard in that listening session down in Pikeville a few days ago.
This is a picture of Howard Abshire. He is a former production foreman and a fourth-generation coal miner. In the audience during his testimony was his son right behind him, right here, Griffin. He is a fifth-generation coal miner. What the father and son have in common is they are both out of work. Both the father and the son are 2 of over 5,000 Kentuckians who have lost their jobs in the war on coal--two of the casualties of the President's war on coal, Howard and Griffin, out of work.
Howard is holding up a piece of coal in his left hand. Coal mining is what the EPA wants to stamp out, but coal is also the powerful substance which powers our homes, provides light and heat and fuels the commerce of goods and services worldwide.
``This is coal,'' he said. ``This keeps the lights on.'' Howard is only one of many coal miners laid off for lack of coal mining work. This is what he said:
Look in our schools. Look in our nursing homes. Look in our pharmacies. We're hurting.
We need help. We don't want to be bailed out. We want to work.
Howard doesn't want to be bailed out. He wants to work.
Seated next to Howard is Jimmy Rose. Jimmy Rose is a veteran. He fought in Iraq. He is a former coal miner. Jimmy was perhaps the most famous attendee at the listening session because he brought attention to the war on coal to a national television audience on ``America's Got Talent.'' Jimmy is a songwriter and singer. He used his song ``Coal Keeps the Lights On'' in his competition in ``America's Got Talent,'' and it spoke directly to the hardship in his community caused largely by the war on coal. This is Jimmy Rose right here, and here is what he had to say:
It's in our heritage, it's in our blood.
Addressing the Obama administration, Jimmy said:
Look at what you're doing, and who you're affecting ..... Coal mining is a way of life, just like I say in the song. Don't kill our way of life. I hope one day I can always say coal kept the lights on.
I also heard from Monty Boyd, the owner of Whayne Supply Company and Walker Machinery, mining and construction equipment distributors that serve Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, and Ohio. The companies employ 1,900 people and operates 25 stores.
Whayne Supply this year celebrated 100 years of operation. Yet this is what Monty had to say:
At a time when I should be excited about our future, I am full of concern and uncertainty because our future outlook is bleak due to the regulatory ambush on the coal industry by the EPA.
He went on to say:
Coal in Kentucky is more than just mining. It is the driving force that keeps our energy rates affordable, keeps our manufacturing sector competitive, and is the economic life blood of eastern Kentucky.
Monty went on:
I am disheartened to continually see the federal government and the EPA take such an anti-business stance that destroys an industry that is vital to our regional economy. The federal government appears to be choosing the winners and losers in regard to the energy sector of America.
Those are strong words from someone with a good perspective on Kentucky's coal industry.
I also heard from Anita Miller, over here in the photograph. She is a manager of safety for Apollo Fuels in my State. She has worked in the industry for more than 15 years. Here is what Anita had to say:
My son walked earlier than my daughter ..... every time she would try to stand up, he would either knock her down, or put his hand on her head so she couldn't stand. This is what is happening to the coal industry.
Anita went on to say:
Every time we try to stand up for ourselves, someone either knocks or holds us down. ..... You can't really buy anything or make plans for the future because you don't know what the future holds.
My wish is that the people who are trying so hard to destroy the coal industry would just stop for a minute and think about the hot showers they take, the lights they turn on, and that first hot cup of coffee in the morning, and remember that it came from electricity powered by coal.
I couldn't agree more with what Anita says. It is apparently too easy for EPA bureaucrats and the Obama administration to make decisions that have a huge impact on the people of eastern Kentucky. They don't think about the consequences and, I might add, without bothering to meet face to face with the people they hurt.
The EPA schedules listening sessions for its new regulations only in cities far away from coal country, both geographically and philosophically; cities including New York, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco. They held 11 listening sessions in all, but the closest one to eastern Kentucky was in Atlanta, requiring Kentuckians to make a 14-hour round-trip drive simply to attend. So it is pretty clear from the location of all these listening sessions the EPA did not want any real input.
That is why I convened a listening session in Pikeville that resulted in the powerful testimony I have shared with my colleagues today. Since the Obama EPA would not come to Kentucky, I brought the voices of Kentuckians to EPA. We held three panels composed of those in the coal industry, miners and their families, and local elected officials to illuminate the disruption in these communities caused in large part by the war on coal. Many of my constituents filled out comment cards and my office delivered them yesterday to the EPA, along with the hearing testimony.
I want to leave my colleagues with the comments of one Kentuckian, Justine Bradford, who is a retired teacher in Pikeville. Here is what Justine wrote:
Dear EPA, will you please tell Santa Claus all we want for Christmas this year is to be able to work.
This is Justine Bradford: Tell EPA to tell Santa all we want for Christmas this year is to be able to work.
Here in eastern Kentucky we, too, are real people. Please help us find a job. Come and walk in our shoes.
The people of eastern Kentucky believe in coal, and with good reason. The abundance of coal in America and in Kentucky in particular is a God-given resource. For decades it has powered our factories, transported our goods, and warmed our homes.
Yes, the blessings of coal come with the responsibility to use it in an environmentally friendly way. But they also come with the responsibility to see that hard-working Kentuckians who rely on coal for an honest day's work and steady pay are given every chance to earn that. And they come with the right of all Americans to take full advantage of this God-given domestic resource to produce clean, cheap, and safe energy.
These things have been true for many decades. There is no reason they should not still hold true now. Eastern Kentucky must look for some economic opportunities beyond coal, and I support that, and I know the people of the region can accomplish greatness. It is vital that we consider eastern Kentucky's future. But let me make this point: It is equally vital that we not give up on eastern Kentucky's present. As we consider eastern Kentucky's future it is important that we not give up on eastern Kentucky's present, and coal is the key to the present in eastern Kentucky.
The Obama EPA has the testimony I heard in Pikeville. Whether they want it or not, they have it. Eastern Kentucky is going to continue to push back in this war on coal. The war is not over yet, not by a long shot. This President will be gone in 3 years and the coal will still be in the ground. The people of the region are resilient and they will keep fighting.
I am very hopeful for a positive outcome in eastern Kentucky and the Appalachian region and I am going to defend them in every way I can.
Madam President, the National Defense Authorization act is one of the essential pieces of legislation the Senate considers every year. This is legislation, obviously, that authorizes funding for our troops and the equipment and the support they need to carry out their mission. This is legislation that--along with the funding that follows in the appropriations bill--puts muscle behind America's most important strategic objectives across the globe.
Yet, under the Democratic majority, this bill has basically languished since last summer. About 6 months--6 months--have elapsed since the Armed Services Committee first reported the bill out of committee. Now, with just days to go before Christmas, after wasting valuable time ramming through political appointee after political appointee, the majority wants to rush this crucial legislation through without the debate it deserves. They want to push it through the Senate without even giving the minority the ability to offer more than a single amendment--just one.
To give some perspective, 381 amendments were proposed to this bill last year. We agreed on 142 of them. The year before that, hundreds were again proposed and many were agreed to. That is the way the Senate used to operate.
Keep in mind that all this follows right on the heels of the Democrats' ``nuclear'' power grab just a few weeks back. So this is what has become of the Senate under the current Democratic majority--rules and traditions of the Senate that have served us well for years are broken or ignored in the interests of a short-term power grab. Some of the most important legislation that we consider as a body is rushed through at the last minute without any real opportunity for debate or amendment.
As some have suggested, the Senate has become a lot like the House under the current Democratic leadership. From the standpoint of the minority, it is actually a lot worse. Committee chairmen have been cut out of the process. Senators who thought they would have an opportunity to legislate have been told they are basically irrelevant, and evidently so are the rules. Senate rules are now just as optional to Washington Democrats as the ObamaCare mandates they decide they do not like--the Senate rules are just as optional as the ObamaCare mandates they decide they do not like--all of which obviously makes a mockery of our institutions and our laws, and all of which suggests this is a majority that has zero confidence in its own ideas. This is a majority that cannot allow the
minority to have a meaningful say when it comes to nominees. This is a majority that will not allow Members to offer amendments when it counts.
Why? Because of a fear that the minority might actually win the argument and carry the day. That is exactly what we are seeing with the NDAA. The majority leader will not allow a robust amendment process because he cannot stomach a vote on Iran sanctions. He knows the administration would lose that vote decisively, and he knows that many members of his own caucus would vote alongside the Republicans to strengthen those sanctions. So, rather than allow a Democratic vote that might embarrass the administration, the majority leader simply will not permit that vote to happen.
Here is another consequence. By denying the Senate the ability to legislate, debate, and amend the National Defense Authorization Act, the Defense Appropriations Act and additional Iran sanctions, and by refusing the Senate the ability to vote on the authorization for the use of force against Syria, the majority leader has abdicated this Chamber's constitutional role in shaping and overseeing national security policy.
Without considering these matters, the Senate has been unable to address the programs, policies, and weapons systems necessary to make the President's strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific theater real. Are the programs in place adequate to address China's aggressive encroachment upon the territorial and navigational rights of other nations in the region? Through defense legislation have we considered the necessary tradeoffs to fund adequate force structure--have we done that? Can we execute this pivot and maintain adequate force structure in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean? We will not have any of that debate--no debate at all.
We have been denied the opportunity to consider additional Iran sanctions.
Despite the assertions of the administration that it has worked with Congress to craft the current sanctions regime, each time sanctions have been enacted during the Obama administration these bills have basically been forced upon the President. He did not want any of them. Despite the fact that the administration concedes that sanctions have brought the Iranians to the negotiating table, it is actively working to forestall additional sanctions tied to the verification of the interim agreement.
The Senate should not be denied a vote concerning Iran. The President retains the power to veto anything we pass. What are our policies preventing the ungoverned portions of Syria from becoming a terrorist safe haven? Unfortunately, we will not be having that debate this session of Congress. What is our policy on capturing, interrogating, and detaining terrorists? And if we had a coherent policy, would it survive after we draw down our forces in Afghanistan? We will not have a chance to have that debate either.
This is not simply a matter of denying the minority a voice in shaping foreign policy; it is an erosion of the responsibility of the Senate. We have given President Obama a free rein in shaping these matters, and our allies in Asia and the Arab world are now questioning our commitment to remaining forward deployed and combat ready.
More importantly, the courageous men and women who defend us every day should not have to suffer from these tactics.
Still, despite the egregious abuses we are seeing here of the legislative process, the underlying bill is an important bill. It contains the authorization needed for key military construction projects on our military bases, for multiyear procurement that is more efficient--that actually saves taxpayers money--and for the combat pay and special pay our troops deserve. It also, fortunately, extends the prohibition on bringing Guantanamo Bay prisoners into the United States, a provision that I and many other Americans strongly support. It also authorizes funding for the next generation of aircraft carriers, something central to the success of the President's pivot to the Asian theater, something I mentioned earlier.
In short, there are a lot of good things in this bill, even if the process that got us here was completely unacceptable.
Let me be clear: The bill before us would be markedly improved if Senators were allowed to offer amendments and more than just a day or two to debate them. The Democrats who run the Senate need to think hard about what they are doing. This is just about the only regular order legislation we ever consider anymore. It is one of the only chances Senators can count on to offer important amendments. Now the Senate Democratic majority is even trying to shut that down too. We do not even do Defense authorization anymore, open to amendment.
I remind my colleagues on the other side, one day they will find themselves in the minority again.
One never knows how soon that might occur. They should think long and hard about what they are doing to this institution, because the Senate is bigger than any one party or presidential administration.
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