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Manchin predicts Obama's anti-coal stance isn't going to change

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said he doesn't think the Obama administration's anti-coal stance is going to change.

Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin were among the more than dozen speakers who addressed the 6th annual Governor's Energy Summit on Monday at the Marriott.

"People ask me, aren't I happy that Lisa Jackson will be replaced?" Manchin said, referring to the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (The Washington Post reported last month that Jackson will leave the Obama administration soon).

"Carol Browner brought this whole philosophy to the White House," Manchin said, referring to former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy. "She's gone and it didn't change. I don't think it'll change. They're committed to where they are."

The West Virginia Democrat told more than 200 business leaders that he believes the Senate Energy Committee will develop a "balanced, reasonable" energy bill and "we'll fight to get it to the Senate floor." He predicted the bill will get through the Republican-controlled House and "it will be difficult for the administration to veto it."

As for the so-called "fiscal cliff" -- federal budget cuts and tax increases scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1 if Congress and the Obama Administration don't act -- Manchin said, "I've been there two years and I've never seen anything like this. I've got to apologize.

"It's all about money," he said. "I can say something and if someone takes offense, someone could launch a $5 million campaign against me tomorrow. These (Congressional leaders) are accomplished people but they've been beat up so much."

Manchin said he's "all in on the Bowles-Simpson plan," the deficit reduction plan proposed but ignored last year. "There are about 30 or 40 of us (in the Senate) that would vote on it tomorrow. And we'd get beaten up. But it's the only thing I've seen. The people need confidence that the government can govern."

Tomblin said, "I believe we have more opportunities than we have challenges in West Virginia."

The governor said his belief that the state is on the right track was renewed last week when he learned of a Doddridge County family that has a natural gas processing plant on what had been a cow pasture.

"They've demonstrated what great things can happen when we work in partnership," Tomblin said.

Other summit highlights:

* Steve Hedrick, head of Bayer CropScience's Institute Industrial Park, said, "We need to be predictable in an unpredictable world. Being predictable requires sound energy policies. We need a comprehensive approach. It's not a choice -- we need an 'all-of-the-above' energy policy. For far too long it's been given little more than lip service."

* Tom Witt, retired director of West Virginia University's Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said, "We think one of the big opportunities (for coal) will be in continuing to make inroads in export markets."

Witt said the budget cuts that will go into effect in January if Congress and the Obama administration don't act "would have a fairly significant impact on the National Energy Technology Laboratory" in Morgantown.

* Cal Kent, former vice president of business and economic research at Marshall University, said that over the next five years, none of the renewable energy sources is likely to provide electricity at a lower cost than traditional sources. "A transition from current fuels to renewables will require either government subsidies, renewable fuel standards or higher rates," he said.

Kent said there is "considerable potential" in West Virginia for development of wood biomass. Also, "the cost and benefits of using bio-diesel in school buses should be investigated. There's an argument we should switch the fleet to natural gas instead but we should look at bio-diesel."

* Christy Risch, director of research at Marshall University's Center for Business and Economic Research, said, "West Virginia has the second-highest household consumption of energy. So there's room for energy efficiency."

* Mark Muchow, deputy secretary of the state Department of Tax and Revenue, said exports are a big reason coal is doing as well as it is. There have been huge increases in exports to Asia, 34 percent growth in exports to Europe, and a 32 percent gain in exports to Canada, he said.

Energy continues to be a big part of the West Virginia economy. "About 25 percent of property taxes generated locally comes from energy," he said. "The richest county in West Virginia at the local level is Boone, because of its coal mines, followed by Pleasants, because of its power plants."

* David Flannery of the law firm Jackson Kelly said, "There's a broad-based attack by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on all fossil fuels." He said the Obama administration is using the Clean Air Act; the Clean Water Act; the Research, Conservation and Recovery Act; and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to throttle energy production.

* Gene Trisko of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recently proposed Mercury and Air Toxic Standard rule would require the retirement of 10 to 20 percent of the nation's coal-fired power plants and result in "an unprecedented loss of jobs."

* Scott Rotruck of Chesapeake Energy Corp. said of the natural gas industry, "The most critical thing we have to confirm in the public's mind is that our operations are safe."

Rotruck said public policy is important. "New York produces 5 percent of the natural gas resources they use," he said. "Why? It's public policy." (New York has a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, a technology used to harvest natural gas trapped in shale formations).

* Chris Weikle, speaking on behalf of the West Virginia Natural Gas Vehicles Task Force, said the state is looking at ways to impose the motor fuels excise tax on natural gas. Among the options: A sticker, an at-pump tax, and tax at the meter.

* Susan Lavenski, speaking for the Just Beneath the Surface Alliance, which promotes the natural gas industry, said that when the alliance's public relations campaign began about 18 months ago, "we found there was a lot of misinformation."

She said the alliance now has 2,500 members and 35 supporting partners.

* Charles Huguenard of Longview Power reviewed the history of the $2 billion coal-fired plant at Maidsville, which began producing electricity a year ago. The plant is 17 percent more efficient than the average for the nation's coal-fired fleet of power-generating stations, he said. "We provide low-cost, highly reliable energy to the region."

* Gary Thompson of West Virginia University's Parkersburg campus gave an environmental perspective. "I don't think anybody will say it's a good idea to waste what is our most precious natural resource, energy," he said. "Twenty percent of the energy used in the U.S. is used in heating. And half of that is wasted."

* Mike McKechnie of Mountain View Solar in Berkeley Springs said solar is "a small piece of the energy grid" in West Virginia and always will be. Even so, "there are over 200 solar installations in West Virginia, maybe as many as 250."

* Steve Kominar of the Mingo County Re-development Authority spoke about TransGas' plan to build a $3 billion coal-to-gasoline plant in Mingo County. Kominar said TransGas is saying that it will have the financing in place for the plant by the first quarter of 2013.

Contact writer George Hohmann at or 304-348-4836.



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