- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Obama administration officials aren’t “turning our backs on coal,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said Friday during a visit to West Virginia, where the president’s climate change proposals have taken heat.

Jewell and Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement Director Joseph Pizarchik toured surface mine, including Arch Coal’s Coal-Mac mine. They observed reclamation efforts at the sites and met with reporters afterward.

Jewell said West Virginia struck her as similar to Washington, her home state.

“Generations of people have been highly dependent on logging,” Jewell said of Washington. “Those rural communities, just like these rural communities, are saying, ‘what’s next,’ with changes that we’ve had.”

Jewell mentioned the $55 million Obama proposed in his budget for grants for ailing coal communities.

Many elected officials in West Virginia loathe Obama policies that affect coal and aim to stem global warming. They say proposed caps on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants would deal a serious blow to a coal industry already hampered by lousy markets, thinning southern West Virginia coal seams, cheap natural gas and other factors.

In a statement, Republican Congressman David McKinley said it was “about time” the administration visited the area stricken by lost coal jobs.

“Secretary Jewell should report back what she sees - communities more concerned about jobs and economic growth than an ideological agenda,” McKinley said.

Jewell said she informed West Virginia’s congressional delegation of her trip. She didn’t specifically invite them, but would’ve considered letting them join.

A recent study by West Virginia University said struggling southern West Virginia would likely see a significant plunge in coal production over 20 years, with or without the carbon rule. The state’s more productive northern coalfields would be hurt worse by the carbon limits, the report said.

Pizarchik also said he recommended that state regulators work with the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate research on the health effects of living near mountaintop removal mines. The state Bureau for Public Health is heading the research review.

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