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WV Democratic delegation says EPA meeting 'productive'

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Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy introduced herself to a small delegation of Democrats from West Virginia as the new EPA director Aug. 1.

She told them it was the first time she'd been able to use that title, according to House Speaker Tim Miley, one of a handful of officials who made the trek.

The delegation met with McCarthy, EPA staff and senior advisers to President Barack Obama.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio, Democratic Congressional candidate Nick Casey, Chris Hamilton of the West Virginia Coal Association and Bill Banig with the UMWA were among the delegation.

Puccio said last week each member would pay his or her own way for the trip.

The delegation hosted a conference call after the 45-minute meeting, during which McCarthy took "copious notes" and seemed receptive to an invitation to visit West Virginia.

"I think they were receptive," Manchin said. "We were able to bring facts to the table, and I think they may have thought we were going to do a dog and pony show, but we had specifics of what they had done."

Puccio said McCarthy told them she wanted to "hit the re-start button."

As for plans to bring McCarthy to West Virginia? None have been made yet, but Puccio said he encourages everyone to be heard, and anyone who wants to make contact with her during a visit is free to contact the administration to set up a time.

The West Virginia Republican Party issued a statement last week after the Democrats announced the trip, saying it was coming a year late.

"The time to fight the Obama administration's attempt to shut down the coal industry was last year when Democrats convened in Charlotte and wrote the party's platform," the statement read. "While Puccio and company talked about communication and clout, the fact is that President Obama has turned a deaf ear to West Virginia."

Lisa Boothe, spokeswoman for Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., called the trip the "five years too late tour."

"There is nothing that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy can say to cover up the job-killing policies that this administration has supported over the years," Boothe said.

Miley said the delegation "laid it all out on the table," and was "very frank and very blunt but respectful," and said McCarthy was "respectful in return."

"I was sitting next to her, on her right, and she was taking copious notes," Miley said.

Rahall said it was his second time speaking with McCarthy, and she seemed more open this time.

"Gov. Tomblin was very frank and open with her, and said he had sent three letters to her predecessor, Lisa Jackson, since he's been governor the past three years," Miley said. "Not only did he not get a response, but they weren't even acknowledged of being received.

"This new director, we were able to get a meeting with her in her first week on the job, and that speaks volumes about her willingness to try to understand the problems we as a state face from the negative actions that may be taken against the coal industry."

Banig said McCarthy gave them an open door, but the burden would be on the delegation members to "keep walking through that door."

Puccio said the delegation was restricted on the number of participants it could have, and several letters from other lawmakers in support of the delegation had been passed along during the meeting and more were on the way.

Tennant said West Virginia and the EPA were "not on the same page yet," but "we have to be able to believe what they say."

Hamilton said McCarthy did more listening than speaking during the meeting.