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August 3, 2015

A Tale of Two Statements: W.Va. Senators React to EPA Coal Decision

If the ways in which a lame-duck senator is different from an active senator weren’t already abundantly clear, the responses of Democratic West Virginia Sens. Joe Manchin III and Jay Rockefeller to the Environmental Protection Agency’s new emissions standards for coal provide a perfect case in point.

Rockefeller is retiring at the end of 2014. Manchin is likely to run for re-election in 2018, or as a gubernatorial candidate again at some point. Rockefeller said the new regulations are important for modernizing the industry and preventing climate change. Manchin called the decision “impossible” and job-killing.

Maybe the difference between the two senators boils down to a straight division on ideology, or maybe one lawmaker felt more free to say how he genuinely felt because he no longer has to face an electorate in a state that largely lives and dies by coal. (It’s worth noting that the West Virginia congressional delegation met last month at the White House to talk about coal policy with EPA chief Gina McCarthy. Rockefeller did not attend the meeting.)

Below are the dueling statements from Manchin and Rockefeller.

Manchin:

“Today’s announcement of the EPA’s new source performance standard is direct evidence that this Administration is trying to hold the coal industry to impossible standards. Never before has the federal government forced an industry to do something that is technologically impossible. Forcing coal to meet the same emissions standards as gas when experts know that the required technology is not operational on a commercial scale makes absolutely no sense and will have devastating impacts to the coal industry and our economy.

“It is past time that this country establishes an all-of-the-above energy policy that uses every domestic resource available to us, and that includes coal. The facts are plain and simple: Coal provides the greatest share of electricity we use, generating around 40 percent of our power. The President’s own Department of Energy predicts that coal will continue to be a major source of electricity for at least the next 30 years. It’s just common sense to level the playing field and accept that coal is, and will be for the foreseeable future, a significant part of our energy mix.

“If these regulations go into effect, American jobs will be lost, electricity prices will soar, and economic uncertainty will grow. We need the federal government to work as a partner, not an adversary, and to invest in America’s energy future. I will continue to fight EPA overreach, just as I did as Governor, to protect the reliable, affordable energy and the good-paying jobs that coal-fired power plants provide in West Virginia and across this country.”

Rockefeller:

“I’ve always said that any clean coal policy must, at its core, have the interests of miners and their families in mind — and that new technology is the best and only way to secure their future.

“The EPA’s new carbon emission plan includes tough requirements for future coal-fired power plants and pushes us hard toward clean coal technologies that have great potential but are not yet deployed at full-scale, and are difficult to finance.

“These rules will only work if we act now to strengthen our investment in clean coal technology and to advance public-private partnerships more seriously than ever. We need everyone with a stake in clean coal to come together for these solutions to become a reality.

“This rule is undeniably a daunting challenge, but it’s also a call to action. West Virginia and America have overcome far greater technological obstacles than this one, and I refuse to believe we can’t do it again.”

Nothing like the knowledge that you’ll never have to run another political campaign to up your level of candor on a parochial issue.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is running for re-election this cycle, vowed to hold a vote to repeal the rule, further proving that all politics is local (…coal politics).

UPDATE: A typo in an earlier version of this post made it seem as if the 113th Congress were ending a year before it is supposed to. It is not. Though we’re sure some certainly wish it would.

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