CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday used its last working day before November's general election to pass a bill that recycled its previous attempts to block Obama administration efforts at tougher regulation of the nation's coal industry.
Lawmakers approved the measure on a mostly party-line vote of 233-175 after a morning of speeches planned by the Republican leadership to promote their view that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiatives are crippling coal mining.
West Virginia Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley, both R-W.Va., supported the bill. Rep. Nick Rahall was one of 19 Democrats who voted for the bill, and issued a statement to emphasize that he helped author the legislation.
"Having crafted essential components of this pro-jobs bill, I am pleased that the House has spoken so strongly today in support of our coal miners and their families," Rahall said. "The true soldiers in this war are our coal miners who simply want to do their jobs and earn an honest living to provide for their families."
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., issued a statement in support of the bill, and noted that he co-sponsored similar measures in the Senate, where Democratic leaders have not made consideration of the coal legislation a priority.
But Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., blasted the House legislation and said he was instead spending his time working on a bill aimed at helping the coal industry address global warming with carbon capture and storage technology.
"I've opposed much of this legislation in the past because it undermines important environmental and health protections without moving coal forward," Rockefeller said.
"This is yet another effort by House Republicans to score political points by pushing bills they know won't become law instead of working to find actual solutions," Rockefeller said. "It's time to stop the games and start looking toward the future, diversifying our economy in West Virginia, and laying out a path for truly clean coal technology."
Among other measures, the "Stop the War on Coal Act" would block EPA from issuing new rules to control the handling and disposal of toxic coal ash, keep the Interior Department from rewriting a stream protection rule, halt new limits on mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants, and stop EPA from finalizing rules to cap greenhouse emissions from new electrical generating stations.
Especially in Appalachia, the coal industry is struggling in the face of cheap natural gas, competition from other coal basins, declining reserves of quality coal, and the finalization of long-mandated reductions in toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Coal's share of U.S. electricity generation dropped to about 36 percent earlier this year, far below the 50 percent still often cited by industry supporters. The U.S. Department of Energy projects that annual Central Appalachian coal production will be cut in half by 2035.
Coal company officials and regional politicians have tried to blame the industry's woes on the Obama administration, but the number of miners working in Appalachian mines actually rose during the first three years of the administration.
But a string of layoffs has come since the first of the year, and coal-mining employment in West Virginia dropped by about 1,300 jobs in the second quarter of 2012, according to data from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.Reach Ken Ward Jr. at email@example.com or 304-348-1702.