Hearing Statement: Impacts of Mountaintop Mining on Surface and Groundwater Resources and Other Direct Impacts in Appalachia
June 25, 2009

Contact: Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov (202)224-9797

 Opening Statement of Senator James Inhofe

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

Hearing on the Impacts of Mountaintop Mining on Surface and Groundwater Resources and Other Direct Impacts in Appalachia

June 25, 2009

I would like to thank Subcommittee Chairman Cardin and Ranking Member Crapo for holding today’s hearing on the impacts of mountaintop mining on surface and groundwater resources and other indirect impacts in Appalachia.  

I also want to welcome Randy Huffman, Cabinet Secretary for West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection, as well as the other witnesses testifying today.  I look forward to your testimony.  And it’s great that so many residents from West Virginia traveled to see this hearing in person.  Whatever side of the issue they’re on, it’s good to see so many citizens engaged in the political process.

I want to emphasize today the importance of maintaining and protecting America’s natural resources.  Federal clean water laws should be followed and enforced for the citizens of this nation, especially those in Appalachia.  This is a fundamental value we all share.  Yet it is not the only value to be considered: ensuring the economic viability of Appalachia, and the families who live there, is equally important.  I believe these two values are complementary.  Put another way, environmental protection can coexist with job creation and economic prosperity for families. 

I’m not sure this view is acceptable among environmental activists.  For them, coal is evil and must be banned, no matter the cost to families in Appalachia and states that depend on it for jobs, for schools, and for energy security.  

I should also note that I’m somewhat concerned by the infighting among Democrats when it comes to coal.  As an example, just look at the Memorandum of Understanding on mountaintop mining between the EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of the Interior.  Now some, such as myself, are concerned the MOU could mean economic hardship for Appalachia.  But consider the views of radical global warming activists, such as NASA scientist and Obama supporter James Hansen.  Hansen recently criticized President Obama for the MOU.  Here’s what he said:

“The Obama administration is being forced into a political compromise. It has sacrificed a strong position on mountaintop removal in order to ensure the support of coal-state legislators for a climate bill… Coal is the linchpin in mitigating global warming, and it’s senseless to allow cheap mountaintop-removal coal while the administration is simultaneously seeking policies to boost renewable energy.”

Mountaintop mining has also provoked serious battles within the Obama Administration.  Consider this: the LA Times recently reported on a “shouting match in which top officials from two government agencies were heard pounding their fists on the table...”  But that’s not all.  Let me quote again from the LA Times story:

“Although environmentalists had expected the new administration to put the brakes on mountaintop removal, [Rep. Nick] Rahall [D-W.Va.] and other mining advocates have pointed out that Obama did not promise to end [mountaintop mining] and was more open to it than his Republican opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain.” 

A review of Obama's campaign statements, according to the LA Times, shows that Obama had “expressed concern about the practice without promising to end it.”  

This gets even more interesting.  The Times notes that mountaintop mining “is politically sensitive because environmentalists were an active force behind Obama's election, and the president's standing is tenuous among Democratic voters in coal states.”  Moreover, the Times writes, “Obama needs support from local lawmakers for an energy agenda that would further regulate home-state industries, but halting mountaintop mining could eliminate jobs and put upward pressure on energy prices in a time of economic hardship.”

So, it seems the Administration and its supporters in the environmental community can’t make up their minds about coal and mountaintop mining.  It’s not hard to understand why.  Those “local lawmakers” the LA Times refers to, who are concerned about the future of their communities, are Democrats.   Coming from Oklahoma, I would say that Democrats in my home state and in places like West Virginia tend to see coal and energy differently than, say, Speaker Pelosi, Henry Waxman, or the Obama Administration.  They tend have practical, rather than ideological, views about coal and energy. 

As they see it, coal provides jobs and secures livelihoods for families.  Coal also is a source of reliable, affordable electricity that powers the economies of West Virginia, Ohio, and much of the nation.  Banning coal or sharply curtailing its use makes no sense to people who rely on it every day of their lives.  They can’t understand why Democrats in Washington and their friends in the environmental movement think coal is the root of all evil.  When they see the likes of the Waxman-Markey global warming bill, which would destroy thousands of good-paying jobs for hard-working people, or comments from the Secretary of Energy that “coal is my worst nightmare,” or from Vice President Biden, who vowed on the campaign trail that there would be “no coal plants here in America,” they scratch their heads and wonder whether such opinions are grounded in reality.

As the Democratic leaders in Washington are preparing for the debate tomorrow on the disastrous Waxman-Markey bill, and as they continue to fight over whether coal should be banned, diminished, or remain central to the nation’s energy policy, the 77,000 hard-working people in Appalachia who work in the mining industry are wondering whether they have job security.  

My sincere hope is that the Democrats here in Washington can stop arguing about coal and listen to local officials from the heartland.  Those officials—again, many of them Democrats—do not want to abandon the Clean Water Act and the protections it provides to the families who live, work, and play in their communities.  They want clean water and they should get it.  But at the same time, they want the recognition that their economic livelihoods matter just the same, both for their communities and for the nation.

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