- The Washington Times - Monday, October 26, 2009

War on coal

While campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama said his cap-and-trade tax plans would “bankrupt” anyone building a coal-fired power plant. Although those taxes haven’t materialized, the Environmental Protection Agency has put the brakes on 79 surface mining permits in four states since he was elected.

The EPA says these permits could violate the Clean Water Act and warrant “enhanced” review. But the agency went even further last week, announcing plans to revoke a permit for the Spruce No. 1 Mine in West Virginia - a move that has caused anxiety among coal-state Democrats about the future of the industry under the Obama administration.

Mr. Obama’s opposition to coal has been apparent since January 2008 when he told the San Francisco Chronicle he would clamp down on miners by enacting a cap-and-trade system that would make it too expensive to stay in business. “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can,” he said at the time. “It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

Although his favored cap-and-trade bill hasn’t yet been passed, West Virginia’s Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin III, who supported Mr. Obama’s candidacy, called the EPA moves part of a stealth campaign to stifle the industry.

“Right now, my belief is that they’re trying to kill off surface mining through regulation what they cannot get done through legislation,” Mr. Manchin told MetroNews Talkline, a West Virginia call-in radio program, earlier this month. In West Virginia, 23 permits are being held up, with other affected states being Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson assured Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat, at a recent congressional hearing that the agency had no “hidden agenda” when it comes to mining.

“Those permits have been in litigation for literally years and years,” Ms. Jackson said, saying there must be more “clarity” on the Clean Water Act rules that miners should abide by. “Unequivocally, neither EPA nor I personally have any desire to end coal mining, have any hidden agenda, any agenda whatsoever that has to do with coal mining as an industry. I believe that coal can be mined safely and cleanly. I believe that it can be done in a way that minimizes impact to water quality and I believe that’s EPA’s role and responsibility and duty to speak to those issues and only those issues.”

But Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, who also backed the Obama presidential bid, is outraged that the EPA is revoking a permit in his state. “I am angry with the EPA’s announcement that they will use veto power to revoke the authorized Spruce Mine permit in Logan,” he said. “It is wrong and unfair for the EPA to change the rules for a permit that is already active.”

The West Virginia-based Register Herald was equally harsh. “Coal is under attack by the Obama administration,” an Oct. 4 editorial said. “And now, even those who supported the Obama-Biden ticket in 2008 have come to that realization.”

Surface mining has long been opposed by environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, which has asked the Obama administration to ban surface mining, which it calls “mountaintop removal mining.” A printable brochure on the Sierra Club Web site about the practice says: “Working together, we can end the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining and stop big energy companies from walking away with billions in profit - while leaving nothing behind but a leveled mountain moonscape and valleys and streams filled with mining rubble. Too many communities in Appalachia have already paid a heavy price in polluted drinking water, flooded towns, damaged homes and destroyed lives.”

Muslim tech funding

The White House is launching a multimillion-dollar fund to pay for technological development in Muslim countries, following through on a promise President Obama made in his June 4 speech in Cairo.

The Overseas Private Investment Corp., an agency of the U.S government, announced a call for proposals for its newly created Global Technology Innovation Fund, which the White House described as “part of an ongoing U.S. government effort to expand partnerships that advance economic opportunity and job creation - including in Muslim-majority countries,” in a statement released Friday.

Story Continues →