- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hundreds of coal miners rallied on Capitol Hill Wednesday against the Obama administration’s attempts to rein in mountaintop-removal mining, accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of trying to wipe out the coal industry.

“This administration is trying to shut down coal and fire all of you,” said Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican, adding that the EPA was practicing “strangulation by regulation.”

The industry-backed group Faces of Coal said it paid for most of the travel and lodging expenses for the coal miners, who came from West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Speakers included politicians from both parties and country music singer Stella Parton.

Later, country music performer Big Kenny told a smaller, rival rally of opponents of mountaintop removal that the coal industry does not speak for all of Appalachia.

In mountaintop-removal mining, forests are clear cut, explosives blast apart the rock, and machines scoop out the exposed coal. The earth left behind is dumped into valleys, covering intermittent streams. Coal operators say it’s the most efficient way to reach some reserves, and that it supports tens of thousands of jobs and provides coal for electricity. Opponents say it pollutes water, defaces majestic scenery and obliterates the quiet country environment.

The coal industry has filed a lawsuit against the EPA’s new policy which tightened water quality standards for valley fills at surface coal mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said the goal is a standard so strict that few, if any, permits would be issued for valley fills.

Ralliers wore blue Faces of Coal T-shirts, and some sported hard hats. They hoisted signs that said, “Coal Keeps the Lights on,” and “Coal Miners ‘Dig’ Their Jobs.”

When an opening prayer was given, it included thanks to God for natural resources such as coal.

“They’re trying to take our jobs,” yelled Haven King, a 65-year-old retired coal miner from Hazard, Ky. “We have to stand up.”

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III, a Democrat, said that the EPA is blocking jobs.

“West Virginia will fight back and every coal state must fight back,” he said.

The state’s senior senator, Democrat John D. Rockefeller IV, said that the EPA’s Miss Jackson “doesn’t understand the sensitivities economically of what unemployment means. Her job is relatively simple: clean everything up, keep it clean, don’t do anything to disturb perfection. Well, you can’t do coal and do that at the same time. God didn’t make coal to be an easy thing to work with.”

EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan responded: “This administrator has been clear in rejecting the false suggestion that any of the steps EPA is taking actually threaten to weaken the economy or increase unemployment.”

Next January, the EPA plans to start regulating greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for global warming, another cause of alarm for the coal miners. Mr. Rockefeller has sponsored legislation to suspend that for two years.

Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, urged support for Mr. Rockefeller’s measure.

“We are not going to let the EPA regulate coal out of business,” he said.

Although the rally was billed as bipartisan and a number of Democrats spoke, there were some partisan comments, especially from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. He said that this administration and current Congress are the most anti-coal ones in history.

“Send them a message on Nov. 2,” he yelled to cheers.

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