Read more: http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coal industry officials on Friday ended a three-day symposium in Charleston with a session repeating their harsh criticisms of the Obama administration's push to reduce power plant emissions and curb environmental damage from strip-mining.Industry boosters from Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania led a panel discussion titled, "Obama's No Jobs Zone," drawing applause and occasional cheers from West Virginia mining company representatives gathered at the Charleston Civic Center.Mining operators are furious over tougher U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permit reviews and water quality guidance they say have slowed new permit approvals to a trickle and stronger federal air quality rules that are forcing some utilities to migrate toward natural gas."EPA continues to push costly regulations designed to eliminate coal usage," said Josie Gaskey, director of the Pennsylvania Coal Association.Coal officials also heard a presentation about an industry-funded project aimed at examining the science that's found serious environmental damage and potential public health problems associated with mountaintop removal mining.John Craynon of Virginia Tech University said the project, which includes researchers from nine regional educational institutions, is trying to see if there are "other interpretations" of studies like those by West Virginia University researcher Michael Hendryx.Over the last five years, Hendryx has co-authored 20 peer-reviewed papers examining mountaintop removal and community health. He's found that living near mountaintop removal mining is statistically linked to higher rates of illnesses, including birth defects and cancer.So far, coal companies including Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal and Patriot Coal have provided $15 million to fund the work over the next five years, but Craynon says that money does not taint the research."By doing solid research, you can engage in the conversation," Craynon said. "It's funded by industry, but it's not designed to be an advocate for the industry. It's not the same as consulting work."Jason Bostic, a coal association lobbyist, praised the effort as "one of the most exciting projects I've seen" and said he felt "privileged to have been involved in the development of it."Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1702.