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EPA nominee says Obama not out to destroy coal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration is not out to destroy the coal industry, the president's nominee to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday.

During a confirmation hearing, would-be EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy tried to assure members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that the agency would treat coal fairly when writing new air pollution rules and water quality standards.

"I believe that coal has been and will continue to be a significant source of energy in the United States, and I take my job seriously when developing those standards to provide flexibility in the rules," McCarthy told lawmakers.

Republican committee members hammered away at McCarthy, complaining about her role in writing new EPA rules to reduce toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants and about pending proposals to force coal plants to control their global warming pollution.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., pointed out newspaper stories from his home state and from West Virginia about layoffs of coal miners because of coal's declining share in U.S. electrical generation.

"Regulations and proposed rules on greenhouse gases, coal ash, mercury emissions and industrial boilers have led to the closing of dozens of power plants in the U.S., costing our country thousands of jobs," Barrasso said.

The environmental group Appalachian Voices, though, released a new review of government data that showed that U.S. coal mining jobs increased overall under the Obama administration.

"While the data show some variations among coal-producing states, each of the top 10 has had more mining jobs on average under the Obama administration than under the Bush administration," the group said. "Nine of those states saw higher coal mining employment in 2012 than at any point during the Bush years."

In West Virginia, coal-mining jobs increased from about 21,600 in early 2009 to an Obama administration high of 24,600 in early 2012, before dropping to 21,400 late last year, according to quarterly data companies report to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Analysts have cited a variety of factors in the ongoing decline of Central Appalachian coal, including low natural gas prices, competition from other coal regions, tougher environmental rules, and the mining out of high quality and easy-to-reach reserves.

McCarthy ran EPA's air pollution division during Obama's first term, but Democratic supporters emphasized her work as a chief environmental regulator for 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts.

A Boston native, McCarthy holds degrees in social anthropology, from the University of Massachusetts Boston, and in environmental health engineering, planning and policy from Tufts University.

McCarthy defended her agency's proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions from any new coal-fired power plants, saying the plan was intended in part to "provide a path forward" for coal.

EPA says the rule would be "technology-forcing," as intended by the Clean Air Act, and would prompt the industry to do more to perfect and deploy technology to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions.

But Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, said that pressure from Republicans against McCarthy's nomination is really just an effort by the GOP to continue to stall action on climate change.

"It's not a debate about Gina McCarthy," Sanders said. "It's a debate about whether we are going to listen to science and address global warming."Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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