Battle Over Coal Continues to Rage at House Hearing

Investigations Subcommittee member Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) (C) listens to testimony during a hearing about the the Obama Administration's roll in the Solyndra loan guarantee at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. Much of the first part of the hearing was spent on parliamentary tactics over whether to release documents from the Department of Energy and the Treasury about concerns over the legality of the Solyndra loans. (National Journal)

The battle over coal continued to rage Tuesday afternoon during a hearing held by the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on the community impacts of impending Environmental Protection Agency regulations for power plants.

Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy, R-Pa., made clear that the purpose of the hearing was not to discuss the ins and outs of the regulations or talk about how they were created. The purpose, he said, was to allow members of Congress to hear from people most affected by the EPA rule-making.

"These workers bear the immediate cost of EPA's actions," Murphy said in his opening remarks. "Too often, the practice in Washington is to listen as Beltway experts and the EPA explain agency actions. But this practice doesn't capture the daily impact of Washington on the distant communities where good jobs, with good wages, support a proud way of life."

Participating in the hearing were a number of representatives of these 'distant communities', including city and county administrators from coal-rich regions and union representatives for the coal and mining industry.

Without exception, those testifying on behalf of coal communities slammed the regulations, saying they would have a devastating impact on the industry.

Some appealed directly to members of the panel, asking them to block the rule-making.

"I am asking you to please help stem the tide of unemployment and poverty by curtailing the EPA regulations that so drastically impact the production of Appalachian coal," said Albey Brock, a county judge and executive from Pineville, Ky.

Others expressed a sense of disillusionment with the current administration.

"This is my president. I voted for Obama," said Raymond Ventrone, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local Lodge 154 in Pittsburgh. "I went forward and asked other people to vote for this president, but all I want is for [the regulations] to be put in the hands of Congress. I think it's the job of Congress to put a bill [forward] and let them debate what should go on here. I don't think the EPA should be setting the standard for what's going on right now."

The lone panel participant, apart from the lawmakers, not from a coal background was Dan Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategy for the progressive Center for American Progress Action Fund; he was a last-minute addition to the hearing lineup.

Weiss offered a counterpoint to the concerns expressed by Ventrone, Brock, and others, arguing that EPA regulations were unlikely to have dire impacts.

Subcommittee members waited for the witnesses to finish before chiming in. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., voiced support for the deployment of carbon capture and sequestration, otherwise known as clean-coal technology. "For coal to have a future we need to invest in the technologies that allow us to burn that coal cleanly," Doyle said. "What this Congress should be doing is a mission-to-the-moon project on research on how to deal with this issue."

Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., on the other hand, criticized the president for allowing the regulations to go forward. "I want to thank Chairman Murphy for holding this hearing to examine the impact that the Obama administration's continued — and make no mistake about it, war on coal is what it is — is having on local communities," Gingrey said.

The hearing followed a rally on the west lawn of the Capitol protesting EPA regulations targeting coal-fired power plants and came one day after the release of a discussion draft of legislation introduced by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky. and Sen Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to block proposed regulations that would limit carbon emissions from future power plants.