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WV Democrats to meet with EPA, Obama administration

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West Virginia Democrats say they're tired of energy policies handed down from the Obama administration that hurt the coal industry.

Now a group made up of lawmakers, party officials and others will soon head to Washington, D.C., to meet with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama administration. West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio said at a July 24 news conference that 15-17 people will travel to the nation's capital Aug. 1 in an attempt to "put a face on the problem."

"We believe our mission has to be is we have to convince the EPA and the administration to not only put a face on the problem that we're dealing with down here, but families with the problems we're dealing with down here and community problems," said Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, and member of the United Mine Workers of America. "I don't think that people are really seeing the devastation of these new EPA regulations; what it's going to cause downstream to our communities."

Caputo said the EPA and Obama administration need to be aware of what could happen to West Virginia if the coal industry should die. He used McDowell County as an example.

"We can just look in Southern West Virginia and see what happened when coal mining left McDowell County," Caputo said. "The people left McDowell County, the businesses left McDowell County. If we don't have some reasonable regulation and some reasonable discussion about what could happen here, that could happen all across West Virginia."

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said he is hopeful the delegation can help EPA and administration officials understand the importance of coal and energy to West Virginia.

"We need to have an energy policy that includes all of the above, and that includes coal," Kessler said. "Coal has been an important component in the fabric of our state, of our communities, of our jobs and of our tax base. We need to make sure the message is heard, loud and clear, that coal does keep on the lights in this state, in this country, in this region and our communities."

Puccio touted the news conference as bipartisan; however only two Republican lawmakers were in attendance. West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas issued a statement after the news conference, calling the event "disingenuous."

"Press conferences are a way for Democrats to distract from key issues and their steadfast support of anti-coal policies." Lucas said. "But, facts are facts. The party of Obama and his endorsers who stood at the governor's office today have done everything possible to destroy the coal industry, raise energy prices, allow the government to take over health care and weaken our nation."

Puccio said he welcomed Republicans to the news conference, but no Republicans would be making the trip.

"This is not about politics, it's about people, and we're very serious about that," he said. "We're looking at jobs and feeding families. We'll let the people in Washington worry about politics."

West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts was on-hand at the news conference and blasted Obama for a series of policies he says have hurt business. From banking regulations to the Affordable Care Act, Obama has implemented policies that are not helping the economy, Roberts said.

"I think its very appropriate that many of you in this room are concerned about this issue because I'm hopeful that the Obama administration will listen to many of you who are Democrats," Roberts said. "On many issues, the Obama administration has not been listening to those who would like to create jobs and create a good, economic life for the working people of our nation."

The delegation of about 15 people will leave Aug. 1, and Puccio said all who attend will pay their own way. 

Puccio said the dates and schedules for the meetings are still being worked out, but he expected the group to meet with individuals from both the EPA and the Obama administration.

He said West Virginia's Congressional delegation had been "working very diligently to support the families of West Virginia."

"We as a party and as Democratic leadership truly believe they need to hear from us," Puccio said. "We're on the front lines helping families day in and day out to support jobs in West Virginia, and that's nothing new."

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who was unable to attend the news conference because he was not in the state, issued a statement, saying the Obama administration's most recent directive to the EPA was another attempt "to end the use of coal as we know it."

"Not only will this proposed regulation devastate West Virginia and the region by eliminating jobs for our citizens, it would unnecessarily increase the cost of power across the nation," Tomblin said in the statement. "West Virginians will not stand for it.

"This latest announcement is yet another example of the inappropriate use of regulatory authority to set policy for our country."