BRISTOL, Va. — If elected, GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney could eliminate Environmental Protection Agency regulations harming the coal industry after he takes the oath of office in early 2013, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli insisted Wednesday.
Cuccinelli railed against Democratic President Barack Obama’s regulatory impact on coal in a talk to business leaders at a Bristol Chamber of Commerce gathering.
Cuccinelli’s comments came one day after Bristol-based Alpha Natural Resources announced a repositioning plan to reduce 1,200 positions from its 13,100-member work force and idle eight mines in Southwest Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania between now and 2013. About 400 positions in those mines will be eliminated, with some employees having job opportunities elsewhere in the organization, the company said.
Immediately after Alpha’s announcement, many Virginia Republican leaders fired off e-mails to news media outlets blasting EPA regulations affecting coal.
“No part of Virginia has been more affected than your area right here,” Cuccinelli told Bristol business leaders. “The reality is when you have this kind of across-the-board regulatory assault, the people hurt first and the people hurt the worst are the poor and the folks least able to financially respond. We saw that this week with Alpha’s reductions in force. ... The promised assault on coal by this president, he’s keeping that promise. It has real-world consequences. And whether you like those consequences or not, they affect hundreds of families just this week right here in Virginia.”
As attorney general, Cuccinelli has filed legal challenges to the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases coming from coal-fired power plants.
Cuccinelli said Romney could do away with those EPA regulations by signing an executive order.
“We haven’t talked about this one or that one, but he’s made it pretty clear if he’s elected the things legally within his reach he will dial back,” Cuccinelli said of Romney. “We could see this getting worse after November 6th (if Obama is re-elected) — or come to a screeching halt.”
The EPA’s actions, charged Cuccinelli, are also negatively impacting Virginia electricity rates because power production is mostly tied to coal-fired plants.
Cuccinelli praised U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-9th District, for pushing back against the EPA.
“(Former Democratic 9th District U.S. Rep.) Rick Boucher used to send letters (to the EPA) and then wink at them, and nothing ever changed. They are a harder agency now to change,” Cuccinelli said.
Cuccinelli also stressed the price of coal would be more competitive with natural gas without EPA oversight.
While Romney could deal with EPA regulations with the stroke of a pen, it will take congressional action to repeal the Obama administration’s federal health care reform law, Cuccinelli said.
Cuccinelli pointed out the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote last June, upheld the law, but not the way Congress passed it.
The high court ruled the federal government may impose tax penalties on persons who do not have health insurance.
Like other states, Virginia also faces two decisions dealing with the law — whether to expand its Medicaid population and form a state health insurance exchange.
In 2013, Cuccinelli said the U.S. Senate could repeal the law with a simple majority vote.
“We need 50 votes in the U.S. Senate and (Romney GOP running mate) Paul Ryan as vice president,” Cuccinelli explained. “The George Allen/Tim Kaine (Virginia U.S. Senate) race will play a significant role in that. It’s a very closely divided U.S. Senate. It’s a huge example of the consequences involved in this election.”
Cuccinelli plans to seek Virginia’s GOP gubernatorial nomination next year in a race against Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.