augusta free press news

Mark Obenshain: Standing up for coal

A week ago, I met 2,000 people who would like nothing more than to give President Obama a lump of coal on Election Day. But what they really want to do is keep giving the entire nation coal-the coal we need for our coal-fired power plants, for our domestic steel production, and to reduce our reliance on foreign energy sources.

I had the privilege of addressing coal miners and other supporters of coal at the Rally for Appalachian Coal in Abingdon, and let me tell you, they are fired up. They know what you and I know: that a healthy, economically secure Virginia is one in which the coal industry enjoys a certain pride of place. They know that coal is an important driver of Southwest Virginia’s economy and the economy of the Commonwealth as a whole.

And they know that President Obama’s attack on coal strikes at the heart of their region, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of Virginians.

Each year, Virginia’s “coal country” produces nearly thirty million tons of coal, mined by companies directly employing more than 9,000 people (5,000 of them miners) and generating more than $7 billion. And that’s just scratching the surface, since the coal industry supports so many other jobs-by one estimate, more than 31,000 Virginians owe their jobs to coal.

That’s why it’s so alarming that Obama’s EPA is pushing what they call the Utility MACT Rule, new regulations on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants that show no sense of balance. It should go without saying that we all want clean air and a healthy environment. Where we go our separate ways is when this administration hands down extraordinarily costly new rules that make very little difference in air quality or public health.

The coal industry has taken great strides at reducing emissions over the past few decades. During a 35 year period when utilities increased coal consumption from 320 to 875 million tons, atmospheric particulate actually dropped 60% thanks to clean coal technology – technology that relies heavily on low-sulfur coal like that found in Southwest Virginia.

But the Obama administration isn’t interested in this progress. Instead, the EPA wants to saddle utilities with needless new regulations that will cost $10 billion per year (nationwide), and which threaten to take five Virginia power plants offline-in a state where nearly 50% of our energy comes from coal-while costing the average consumer an additional $270 per year in higher energy costs.

In the United States, coal constitutes 90% of our domestic energy reserve, and studies show that we have a 250 year supply of recoverable coal in this country alone. Some believe that Virginia alone has reserves ten times what has been recovered over the entire history of coal mining in the Commonwealth to date.

Of course, coal mining is not without its difficulties. Virginia’s steep terrain and thin coal seams pose serious challenges. In other words, things are difficult enough without the Obama administration interfering.

For many Virginians, it’s already tough to keep up with utility bills. According to federal data, Virginia households with annual incomes below $50,000 already spend as much as a quarter of their income on energy (though, for lower income households, some or all of this cost may be subsidized). You would think that our policy focus would be on trying to keep costs down, not send them skyrocketing.

But when it comes to the policies of the Obama administration, you’d think wrong. You and I know that coal will continue to power America, but only if we can fend off attacks from Washington. On energy, Washington never has solutions: whether it’s coal, nuclear, wind, or any other energy source, there’s always a problem, always an objection, and never a path forward.

Liberals have been railing against coal for decades, ignoring-often mocking-the great successes of clean coal technology and shrugging off the massive economic impact coal has in places like Southwest Virginia. When it comes to energy and jobs, we simply can’t afford the policies of the left.

That’s why I was honored to speak at the Rally for Appalachian Coal, and that’s why I’ll always fight for a robust energy economy here in Virginia-coal, nuclear, and offshore drilling. When the federal government attacks our economy, we need to speak up. When it oversteps its regulatory authority, we need to stand up. I hope that Virginians will do so together – that we’ll stand up for what’s best for Virginia.

Mark Obenshain is a Virginia state senator.