The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, joined Ohio Sixth District Congressman Bill Johnson in Marietta Thursday to discuss what they termed "the war on coal" by President Barack Obama's administration.
The town hall-type session, attended by about 30 people, took place at the Marietta Republicans' Victory Center on Greene Street.
"The war on coal is real-it's not imaginary at all," Johnson said. "Before he came into office the president said we could continue to use coal to fuel power plants, but he would make it very costly."
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Ohio Sixth District U.S. Congressman Bill Johnson, left, and Michigan Sixth District Congressman Fred Upton discussed President Barack Obama’s “war on coal” Thursday during a meeting at the Marietta Republicans’ Victory Center on Greene Street.
He said since Obama took office the president and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have steadily increased regulations on coal use and production that has resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs.
"A lot of companies have moved their operations elsewhere and importing supplies from countries like China because of the regulatory climate that exists here," Johnson added. "This war on coal is real-just ask thousands of coal miners in Belmont County who work for Alpha Natural Resources in West Virginia."
The coal producer announced last week that it had to cut 1,200 jobs and would close eight mines in West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania due to more power companies switching to natural gas as well as the current coal regulatory climate.
Closer to home, American Electric Power Ohio's Muskingum River plant at Beverly is on a list of coal-fired units the company plans to retire due to tighter federal regulations.
The coal-fired Willow Island power plant in Pleasants County, W.Va., was among three plants closed earlier this month by Ohio-based FirstEnergy, which blamed the high cost of complying with U.S. EPA regulations.
Marietta resident Tom Fenton said he was concerned about the power plant closings.
"I was very dismayed that they were shutting down the plant in Beverly," he said. "Hundreds of people will lose their jobs, just because of a bureaucratic decision. And what about all of the people who depend on affordable low-cost power?"
Johnson said a bill package passed by both Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives last week-the Stop the War on Coal Act-is designed to protect jobs and help prevent over regulation of the coal industry.
The White House has threatened to veto the bill, first it would have to make it through the Senate-and that's where the problem lies, according to Upton.
"Many House bills have been passed with bipartisan support, but in the Senate they just sit and sit and sit," he said.
Upton said he believes the country needs a total domestic energy policy that includes coal, oil and natural gas in order to compete with the rest of the world.
He said a bill that would have moved the Keystone XL pipeline project ahead, channeling millions of gallons of Canadian oil into Texas, would have created jobs and energy security for the country.
Upton said the bill passed on a bipartisan basis in the House, but was defeated in the Senate.
"They're already producing more than a million barrels of crude oil a day in Alberta (Canada)," he said. "We shouldn't wait to do this project."
President Obama has decided to wait until after the election before a decision is made to complete the Keystone pipeline project, Upton said.
"That's not doing what it takes to create jobs," he said.
But local Democrats say the supposed "war on coal" is simply an imaginary conflict Republicans are using in an effort to garner more voter support in the 2012 election.
"In fact, there are more people working in the coal industry now than before President Obama took office," said Ohio Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Athens.
"I think (Obama) has done more to increase domestic energy production since he's been in office," she said. "We need to be competitive with our domestic energy, and we have the technology to use all of our natural resources, including coal, in a clean way."
Phillips added that jobs are also being created by alternative energy sources like wind and solar power.
"We need to support those industries, too," she said. "And I think the president believes in all of the above to create energy independence."