ABINGDON — Politicians and coal advocates from four states portrayed President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency as a coal job killing machine during a rally attended by more than 1,000 miners and their family members on Saturday.
The Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security (FACES) staged the political campaign-style rally at the Washington County Fairgrounds and stoked it with fire-and-brimstone speeches, hot food, live music, industry displays, free medical care and a children’s entertainment pavilion.
“We need to send a message to the world that coal is king in Southwest Virginia,” said Virginia House GOP Caucus Chair Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City.
Over and over, speakers insisted Obama’s EPA is keeping coal and the economy from moving forward.
“If the president could go down to (EPA Administrator) Lisa Jackson’s office and get rid of all those regulations, jobs would happen,” said Virginia Delegate Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol.
Virginia Republican George Allen, who is seeking this year to retake his old U.S. Senate seat, said coal interests will be pivotal to defeating Obama in the November presidential election.
Allen called EPA the “Employment Prevention Agency.”
“Coal is under attack from this Obama administration and (Allen’s likely November Democratic opponent) Tim Kaine,” Allen said. “They were for this cap-and-trade energy tax scheme. People figured out the impact of that with skyrocketing electricity costs. ... Now what they’re doing is using the EPA, this unelected, unaccountable bureaucracy, to put in regulations that would, in effect, ban coal. That means job losses not just for coal but the stores in their communities, railroads and ports.”
In response, Kaine campaign Press Secretary Lily Adams said: "While others may talk about supporting the coal industry, Tim Kaine has the record to show for it. As governor, he was proud to play a role in encouraging the permitting of the Wise County power plant and he included coal as an important part of the all of the above energy policy he put in place as governor. As senator, he'll continue to support an all of the above energy strategy including coal."
But a quiet band of environmentalists was also at the rally distributing leaflets suggesting Virginia coal jobs are rising despite no new mountaintop removal permits being issued.
“Since June 2009, when the (Obama) administration announced more stringent ‘Enhanced Coordination Procedures’ for the permitting of mountaintop removal mines, coal jobs are up by 6 percent,” said Southeast-based Appalachian Voices.
Still, Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told the crowd there’s been a concerted effort by environmentalists over the last five years to shut down coal mining in Tennessee.
Ramsey noted legislation was introduced this year — and then defeated — to eliminate Tennessee’s mountain top mining.
“(Environmentalists) said ‘We’re only going to stop coal mining above 2,000 feet.’ ... Well guess where all the coal in the state of Tennessee is? Above 2,000 feet,” said Ramsey, R-Blountville.
Tennessee state Rep. Tony Shipley, an Air Force veteran, explained the Obama administration’s attack on coal in military terms.
Shipley remembered military strategists telling him that any time 50 percent of a target is destroyed, it’s useless.
“The Obama administration is about to destroy the energy industry in this country. You must ... we must remove that man from our White House,” Shipley, R-Kingsport, told the crowd. “How many of you all like to use air conditioning in the middle of the summer? How many of you like to use heat in the middle of the winter? How many of you enjoy non-kerosene lights all the time?
“Ladies and gentlemen, if the Obama administration continues, you will have to discover how you can live on 50 percent of your air conditioning, 50 percent of your heating and 50 percent of your lighting. That is unacceptable.”
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican who wants to be the commonwealth’s next governor, recalled filing a request with the EPA to reconsider a finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health.
“When the EPA goes to work every morning, opportunity isn’t what they have in mind,” Cuccinelli said. “They have put their crosshairs on the region and it has one major industry, which is coal.”
Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell cited a study indicating the commonwealth’s coal industry has a $5.5 billion economic impact with 105 coal mines and 35,000 direct and indirect jobs.
McDonnell stressed GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney will stand up for coal.
“We’ll have him here in Southwest Virginia,” McDonnell said of Romney campaigning in the region. “He understands how important this is. ... He does believe in an all-of-the-above (energy) strategy and not just all above the ground. ... He is clearly a supporter of the coal industry and my guess is he’ll be down here to say that directly to the people.”
West Virginia coal miner Ricky Maiden, a member of the United Mine Workers, said he hopes coal “comes up big” in the presidential election.
When asked who the UMW might endorse this year, Maiden responded: “Romney, I hope.”
For more about FACES go to www.facesofcoal.org.