CAMPAIGN 2010

Federal coal regs like 'terrorist threat' -- Rahall

Veteran House Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) today likened attempts to regulate the coal industry to a "terrorist threat" and pledged to use his seniority to block mountaintop removal mining legislation in Congress.

"Coal has always been under threat," Rahall said in an interview with The Register-Herald of Beckley, W.Va., published today. "Unfortunately, it's often like terrorist threats -- when you're successful in defeating the threat and no attack occurs, you never know the threat was there to begin with."

Rahall, who has represented southern West Virginia since 1977, faces a re-election challenge from Elliot "Spike" Maynard, a well-heeled Republican and former state Supreme Court justice with close ties to coal industry executives, including Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship.

Maynard, like other Republicans hoping to knock off Democratic incumbents, has attempted to highlight Rahall's ties to the national Democratic Party's coal policies, including new U.S. EPA regulations on mountaintop removal mining and the push for a cap-and-trade climate bill (Greenwire, Aug. 26).

Rahall "is a member of the team that is waging war on coal," Maynard said in the pair's first congressional debate last month. "Whether you like that or not, the fact is [President] Obama, [EPA Administrator] Lisa Jackson and [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi are a member of the same team."

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EPA last year froze Clean Water Act permits for 79 surface coal mines in Appalachia, saying they would violate federal law as written. And in April the agency rolled out new permitting standards that Jackson said would ban coal operators from filling valley streams with mining waste in nearly all cases.

In his own interview with The Register-Herald published today, Maynard said he would abolish EPA if he had the power.

"You can't overestimate how cruel and how far-reaching what they are doing is. They are hard-core, radical-liberal environmentalists at the EPA," Maynard said. "They are tyrants and dictators, if you'll let me engage in name-calling, but that's what I think about them."

Maynard's campaign released a poll this summer that showed him within single digits of Rahall, but the incumbent remains the heavy favorite. A poll of 400 likely voters conducted late last month for Rahall's campaign put him ahead by a margin of 59 percent to 34 percent, well beyond the poll's 4.5-point margin for error.

Rahall, who is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is telling voters that he holds sway within his party to block congressional action against coal mining.

The House is currently mulling legislation, H.R. 1310, that would amend the Clean Water Act to ban dumping of mining waste of any kind into U.S. waterways. Rahall said that if the bill -- which has 171 co-sponsors -- came to the floor, it would pass by a wide margin.

But Rahall said he alone had the power to block the bill because of his position on key committees. The bill would have to pass through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where Rahall is the second-ranking Democrat.

"I'm vice chairman, while [Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.)] is for the bill, he's not going to bring it up as a favor to me, so it ain't going to come up," Rahall said. "I'm gone -- those who claim I'm anti-coal -- ask them what's going to happen. The bill will go through the House of Representatives 400 to 20 at the best."

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