While traveling through Southwest Virginia last week as part of his campaign, state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) toured the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center during a visit to St. Paul.
Obenshain, who is running against Democratic state Sen. Mark Herring of Loudon to replace outgoing Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, said after the trip that he would use the power of the attorney general’s office, if elected, to fight for Southwest Virginia’s coal industry.
“I had a great opportunity (while in Southwest Virginia) to listen and learn and talk to folks about my philosophy for running the attorney general’s office,” Obenshain said. “I think one critical job of AG is to stand up for Virginia, especially where feds overreach their authority.”
Obenshain said the president’s recent announcement of tougher carbon emissions standards for existing power plants, and his earlier environmental policies, amount to a war on the coal industry.
“In this instance it seems like the president intends to bypass Congress to impose sweeping new regulations that will have a profound impact on our power producers and coal industry in Virginia and surrounding states,” Obenshain said. “That is something, I believe, that can’t take place without an attorney general pledging to stand up and push back. And that’s my promise if I’m elected.”
Obenshain said he heard similar concerns during his stops in Southwest Virginia.
“I think there is great concern about the impact these regulations are going to have on the way of life in Southwest Virginia, on the coal industry, on the 5,000 Virginians that work in the coal mine industry, and the other 45,000 whose jobs depend on coal in some way,” Obenshain said.
While he said he is not opposed to measures to ensure clean air and water, Obenshain said he felt regulations like those recently announced go “beyond what is reasonable and balanced.”
In addition to hurting coal producers, Obenshain said the president’s proposals would also impact what consumers pay for electricity.
“The attorney general’s office has an obligation to make sure the rates are reasonable and that any increases in the rates are carefully evaluated,” Obenshain said. “But the attorney general can’t stop rates from going up if we’re required by the federal government to close existing generation facilities and replace them. The choice will wind up being a shortage of generation facilities or higher rates, and I want to avoid that. Fighting back seems the only way to avoid that.”
Obenshain also called out Herring’s stance on the issue, saying his opponent hasn’t spoken up and expressed his views on the coal industry and the Obama administration’s environmental regulations.
“My opponent, Mark Herring, thumbs his nose at the idea that there are times when it is appropriate — even necessary — for the states to stand up to the federal government,” Obenshain said. “But if the Obama administration continues to bypass Congress, it may fall to attorneys general to serve as a check on executive actions that exceed statutory authority.”