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Will new attorney general fight coal battle harder?

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There's a new attorney general at the helm in West Virginia, and the prospects of a more aggressive crusade against "federal government overreach" has one of the state's coal industry's spokesmen optimistic.

Attorney General Elect Patrick Morrisey held a press conference on the Capitol steps Thursday afternoon. Among those in attendance were coal industry representatives Bill Raney, president, and Chris Hamilton, vice president.

"(Morrisey) noticed a real void, almost a deafening silence in the office of the attorney general over the past several years," Hamilton said. "The state's had to push back and challenge the EPA for encroaching on state's rights issues repeatedly for the past several years, primarily in the permitting process of surface mine operations."

Morrisey, the first Republican elected to the office in 80 years, said things are going to be changing real soon.

"This is going to be a much different attorney general's office. We're going to be much more aggressive," Morrisey said.

The coal industry, facing a number of market, geologic and political challenges, has had mixed levels of support in fighting federal regulators in court. Morrisey said he thinks rules such as the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, greenhouse gas emissions caps and permit revocations have been done outside of statutory authority.

He said he was disappointed Attorney General Darrel McGraw had been silent on those issues.

"I think, quite frankly, with a little bit of an impetus from an attorney general with a focus on these issues, we can do a lot of good," Morrisey said.

Hamilton said he looks forward to a high level of support and expertise in Morrisey. He said was "very much so" expecting a brighter future for the coal industry and criticized McGraw's neglect of coal issues affecting West Virginia.

"It was just a pure lack of interest on his side," Hamilton said. "He didn't seem anxious or interested to take on the federal government or the Obama administration."

Morrisey has high hopes that he will be able to sit with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to collaborate on a number of issues. The Spruce mine veto and other issues have already drawn public criticism from West Virginia Democrats, and Morrisey said he sees opportunities to work together.

"We want to sit down with the state agencies, with the governor, with the Legislature in order to develop a comprehensive approach to how we can protect West Virginia from Washington overreach," he said.

While the power to challenge different affronts to the coal industry or other state interests varies, Morrisey said, he wants to ensure he, the governor and the Legislature are "speaking with the same voice."

He said his office was still in the transition process and that it was a little too premature to get specific on challenges he'll bring to federal rules and regulations.

"We're going to have a list and I don't think it's going to be a short list," Morrisey said.