CHARLESTON, W.Va. - In August, a group of state Democrats is headed to Washington, D.C., for a meeting with representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and President Barack Obama's administration.
Surrounded by dozens of elected Democrats and other supporters, West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio announced the trip Wednesday at a press conference in the capitol.
Details aren't finalized. The meeting is set for Aug. 1 somewhere in Washington, but Puccio said they're still ironing out a final location. He's not sure who from the EPA or the administration will attend.
About 16 Democrats are expected to make the trip, and everyone is covering his or her own costs, Puccio said. The state's three Democratic congressional officeholders -- Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall -- are also slated to attend the meeting.
A realistic goal of the trip is to establish quality communications with the EPA and the administration, Puccio said later in the day.
"If we can open this line of communication between our lawmakers, between our Democrat leadership, between our Democrat Party, between business, between labor, and we come as a united group, and we truly show them that this is about helping the people of West Virginia, then we start to communicate with them so that they have the same desire," Puccio said.
Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, both spoke in favor of the trip. Kessler said the trip was planned "to make sure the voices of our state and our people" are heard in Washington. Miley said he is focused on putting a face to the outcries the administration is hopefully hearing from West Virginia.
A press release about the event included comments from Rockefeller, Manchin and Rahall. All questioned the EPA and the president's climate plan, but only Rahall made specific reference to a state delegation of Democrats coming to Washington.
Manchin and Rahall have been outspoken in the past month in their repeated criticisms of the administration's energy plan and the EPA. Both admonished the president after his June speech on his climate policy, and Manchin was the only Democrat in the Senate to vote against the nomination of Gina McCarthy as the new head of the EPA.
In explaining that vote, Manchin said it was really a statement against the EPA and the president's climate policy.
While comments from Rockefeller have been more tempered, he's also questioned what he sees as a lack of details in Obama's climate change plan. After Obama's June speech, Rockefeller asked if there was enough attention paid to mining communities.
He did so again Wednesday in the nearly identical statement included in the news release about the trip to Washington.
Puccio emphasized the trip from state Democrats to Washington in no way reflects a failure of the national delegation to voice West Virginian's concerns with the EPA.
"I think they have worked, and worked extremely hard and taken this very seriously," Puccio said.
"But when folks in West Virginia are in need, we all jump in and do all that we can. It has nothing to do with them working hard enough or not. They've done a wonderful job."