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Coal industry hears from two bipartisan allies in WV Capitol

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West Virginia coal companies have two strong partners in the state Capitol, two elected officials affirmed Thursday.

Speaking at the West Virginia Coal Symposium, Democrat Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey assured industry leaders that they were on the side of coal. The symposium is taking place over three days and elected West Virginians serving in Washington will speak Friday.

"No doubt we're in challenging times, you all know that," said Jim Laurita, West Virginia Coal Association chairman in opening statements at the conference. "We're accustomed to tough markets we've been there many times over recent years, however this one is different."

Many of the speakers at the conference placed the blame of much of the industry's woes squarely on the Obama administration and specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency. Both Tomblin and Morrissey vowed to aid the industry in fighting attempts at federal regulation on coal.

"It's no secret that the coal industry has been faced with a number of challenges in recent years from federal regulators to the global recession," Tomblin said. "Despite the challenges, the coal industry continues to be a very important part of our state."

Tomblin than cited the record levels of coal exports being sent from the state – a record that has been set the past three years in a row. While exports increased, full-year data from Energy Information Administration showed West Virginia used less coal for generation last year.

The state, Tomblin said, is "facing an uphill battle from Washington" as far as coal mining is concerned.

"I'm proud to say we've fought the overzealous EPA and won time and again," Tomblin told industry officials. "Like many, I'm interested to see how the change in EPA leadership will impact our energy sector here in West Virginia."

Tomblin touted a number of his initiatives, from miner safety to education and even a bill that forms a public non-profit corporation to identify unused mining, industrial and commercial properties ideal for development. He said he has one foal – building a brighter future for West Virginia.

"I'm a native of the southern coalfields and I will always fight for coal," he said.

The governor also mentioned efforts to increase safety in coal mines.

Morissey said that Washington has "overstepped its bounds in West Virginia." He also criticized former Attorney General Darrell McGraw for inaction on federal regulatory matters.

"To me, this represents a new era in the West Virginia Attorney General's office," Morrisey said. "As many of you know, I ran on platform of restoring integrity to the office, improving the quality of lawyering in the office and ultimately taking on federal overreach."

Although much of his initial days in office has been focused on getting office matters in order, he said the West Virginia Attorney General is beginning to get on top of important state issues.

"I think the state of West Virginia needs to become more aggressive in how it addresses regulatory matters," Morrisey said. "As a former regulatory lawyer myself, my strategy will be that when a proposed rule comes out … we in our office are going to look very closely at that proposed regulations. We're going to analyze it for all its legal deficiencies."

Morrisey said the fight against "federal overreach" will be collaborative with multiple government offices, stakeholders and the public in general. He added that the office wouldn't just be filing lawsuits, it will be active in the regulatory process, including comment periods of new rules.

He said his office will look at new rules and law line-by-line and analyze them for potential detriment to the industry. If that's the case, he said his office will also try to find any potential legal deficiencies in the new rule.

"You can win or lose lawsuits well in advance of the actual filing date," Morrisey said. "If you don't have a good regulatory strategy in place, you're not approaching this from a sophisticated manner. You're in a reactive or an inactive mode. That's not the position we're going to be in."