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West Virginia politicians quick to blast Obama's new climate plan

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia politicians at the local and national level and of both parties were quick to decry a new plan to curb carbon emissions and promote clean energy presented Tuesday by President Barack Obama.

The West Virginia Coal Association and United Mine Workers also decried the president's plan. 

In a highly-anticipated speech from the campus of Georgetown University, Obama presented a three-step plan to cut carbon emissions, prepare the country for climate change and encourage other countries to follow suit in trimming emissions.

"Power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free. That's not right, it's not safe, and it needs to stop," Obama said.

Before and during the speech, several West Virginia politicians blasted the president's plan. Disputing the president's actions has been a typical plan of action for both Republicans and Democrats at all levels in West Virginia politics; Obama is deeply unpopular in the state.

An article in Tuesday's edition of the New York Times quoted Daniel Schrag, head of Harvard University's Center for the environment and adviser to the Obama administration on climate issues. Schrag said Obama needs to start shutting down "conventional coal plants."

"Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they're having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what's needed," Schrag told the Times.

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., was quick to cite those statements as proof the administration does no understand West Virginia or its economy.

"By shutting down the production of coal, not only will the president make it impossible for America to become energy independent but he could deliver an unrecoverable blow to coal-rich states like West Virginia," Capito said in a statement delivered before the speech.

The congresswoman also issued a statement after the speech, calling the plan part of the president's "tyrannical efforts to bankrupt the coal industry."

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The speech is proof the president is waging a war on coal, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said in a press release issued after the speech. Although he said the government should invest in technology to burn coal cleanly -- a part of Obama's plan -- Manchin disagreed with the bulk of the president's proposal.

"Removing coal from our energy mix will have disastrous consequences for our recovering economy," Manchin said in the release. "These policies punish American businesses by putting them at a competitive disadvantage with our global competitors."

The science behind climate change is real, said U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. Obama's speech Tuesday lacked details about changes to the coal mining industry that could make all the difference for West Virginians, he said. "We need more from the President to assure our miners and working families they're part of this plan," Rockefeller said in a news release. "To begin with, we need to see a timeline, a cost estimate and to understand how communities that have relied on coal are going to be supported once these proposals take effect."

During the speech U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., sent out a release that called the president's plan "misguided, misinformed and untenable."

"Locking away the fuels that power our nation behind ideologically imposed barriers will drive up costs for nearly every business and manner of industrial activity while driving jobs overseas," Rahall said in the release.

U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., took to Twitter to blast the president's speech. Using the "war on coal" rhetoric, he accused the president of wanting to kill jobs.

Nick Casey, considered the leading Democratic contender for the 2nd Congressional district seat, also said the president's plan "goes too far." He said Congress, not the EPA, should set climate and energy policy. 

Locally, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was the only state-level politician to immediately issue a statement about the speech. A Republican who campaigned on the promise of "fighting federal overreach," Morrisey had harsh words for the president's plan.

"Here in West Virginia, we plan to review every word of every line of every page of these devastating proposals to develop ideas for how West Virginia can fight back," Morrisey said in an emailed statement.

"Since West Virginia is ground zero in the Administration's callous plans to expand poverty, our state must do everything possible to prevent violations of the Constitution and the rule of law. Our children deserve that and more."

The state Republican Party also called the president's plan "an attack on coal" in a press release issued before the speech.

"There is no sense in any extra-legal order by any President that will raise the price of electricity for every American," said party chairman Conrad Lucas in the release.

"No one is served by not using the gifts and resources that God has blessed upon West Virginia."

The president dismissed the accomplishments of generations of coal miners and hurt coal mining job prospects with his plan, said Bill Raney, executive director of the West Virginia Coal association.

By announcing imminent restrictions on carbon emissions from power plants that exceed the capabilities of current technology, this administration will impose bureaucratic mandates with no regard for the people and communities of West Virginia that depend on coal and the inexpensive energy it creates for their very existence and survival," Raney said in the announcement.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts joined in the criticism of the plan. Like Raney, he said the president's plan will hurt coal jobs, and he hopes the administration will work with the union in crafting policies related to the plan moving forward.

The state chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental organization, thanked the president for his plan. Sierra Club members weren't happy the president didn't speak out against natural gas, but Conservation Chairman James Kotcon said the plan is a step in the right direction.

"For too long, our state has been overly dependent on fossil fuels, and our citizens have suffered from their pollution and degradation," Kotcon said in a news release.

"It is important for our state leaders to acknowledge the climate realities we face and to begin to prepare for the transition that President Obama is proposing." 

Obama never said he planned to shut down coal-fired power plants during his speech, although he pledged to stop sending U.S. funds to such plants in other countries except in special circumstances.

Opponents have repeatedly said the emission standards proposed by the Obama administration and the EPA are not achievable with current technology and would lead to the closure of many coal-fired power plants in West Virginia and elsewhere.

Obama championed natural gas, an industry that has taken off in northern parts of West Virginia, and dismissed anticipated cries that his plan would destroy the economy.

"It suggests a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity," Obama said.

In his plan, the president called on the EPA to work with states to establish emissions standards for new and existing power plants, while reducing "carbon pollution" by at least 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030.

That's more than half of the emissions from U.S. energy providers, according to the Obama administration.

Public agencies are expected to modernize programs by "removing barriers or counterproductive policies" in order to support local "climate-resilient investment," according to the president's plan.

Obama said his plan does not mean the country "will suddenly stop producing fossil fuels," a move he said would negatively impact the economy. His plan promises up to $8 billion in loan guarantee authority for projects using fossil fuels to invest in more efficient technologies.

"We'll need to give special care to the communities that are unsettled by these transitions," Obama said, not specifically mentioning any regions.

There was little use of the word "coal" during the speech, but Obama frequently mentioned "fossil fuels" and "dirty energy." Coal and coal-fired power plants do come up repeatedly in the president's 21-page outline of his plan. 

The president repeatedly said implementing the plan would take time. Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or Follow him at

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