The House took a parting shot at what critics say are the Obama administration's policies to discourage coal production Friday by passing a package of bills designed to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to impose regulations on the struggling industry.
In its last vote of the session, the House voted 233-175 to approve a bundle of five bills, known as the "Stop the War on Coal Act of 2012," that would block recent EPA efforts to regulate emissions, require the agency to consider the cost and economic impact of certain rules, and give states greater authority over pollution control.
"President Obama has spent his entire term waging a regulatory war of red tape and government mandates on coal miners, coal jobs and the millions of people who rely on low-cost coal-fired electricity," said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, Washington Republican. The legislation is unlikely to reach the Senate this year, and even if it did, Mr. Obama has indicated that he would veto it.
But the House's approval highlights the election-year tension between the Obama administration and the nation's coal-mining states, several of which are also battleground states.
Those include Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, all of which are home to coal companies grappling with the EPA's recent first-ever rule on mercury emissions and its proposed carbon-emissions standards for new coal-fueled plants.
The heightened regulatory climate, coupled with falling natural gas prices, prompted Alpha Natural Resources to announce that it would shutter eight coal plants and lay off 1,200 workers in Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.
An industry analysis released Tuesday forecast the closure of 204 coal-based units in 25 states in the next three to five years, resulting in job losses and higher electricity prices.
"Without the passage of the Stop the War on Coal Act, those job losses and thousands of others will become reality for hardworking coal miners and their families across the country as a record number of coal plants will be forced to close over the coming years," said Mr. Hastings.
Nineteen Democrats crossed the aisle to vote with Republicans in approving the legislation, while 13 Republicans voted against it.
The Democrats voting in favor included Rep. Shelley Berkley, who's locked in a tight contest for the open Nevada Senate seat, and Rep. Mark S. Critz of Pennsylvania, a vulnerable first-termer whose GOP opponent Keith Rothfus has made EPA regulations a centerpiece of his campaign.
Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, called the legislation a "polluterpalooza bill" that fails to "recognize the fundamental shift in the energy marketplace."
"Republicans have been so busy manufacturing fake wars on coal and oil that they've missed the real American energy revolution in natural gas, wind, solar and other cleaner, cheaper forms of energy," said Mr. Markey, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.
The Sierra Club called the legislation "a set of reckless and radical bills that would endanger millions of Americans across the country."
A poll conducted for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy and released Thursday showed 59 percent of those surveyed in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia support coal-based energy.
The poll, which oversampled Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, also found that most "agree that EPA is making decisions based on politics, not policy."
ACCCE President and CEO Mike Duncan estimated that EPA regulations threaten 1.5 million coal and coal-related jobs nationwide.
"Today's vote was an important signal to voters about which members of Congress are fighting to protect coal and the jobs it provides," said Mr. Duncan. "It is disappointing that President Obama threatened to veto this critical legislation which would provide for more balanced regulations and ensure a future for coal."
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