In an unexpected move, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller addressed the Senate today to speak against a resolution that would register objection to the Environmental Protection Agency's upcoming restrictions on mercury emissions from power plants. Historically, Rockefeller has been a staunch supporter of the coal industry, but in today's speech he seemed to be channeling the late West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd as he pleaded with the industry to look to the future.

That’s why, when faced this week with a vote in the Senate – on a Resolution of Disapproval of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules on coal-fired power plants reducing mercury and air pollution – I made a decision to stand behind what we value most in West Virginia.

Some in the coal industry won’t see my vote that way. But what they fail to acknowledge is that this resolution does absolutely nothing to embrace the challenge and potential of coal’s future.

This is the type of narrow thinking that moves us backward – declaring that we should somehow turn back the clock, ignore the present and block the future. Instead, we must be moving swiftly forward.


Rockefeller pointed out the real issues facing coal: declining reserves, competitive natural gas prices and climate change and pollution issues. Rather than moving to block the EPA regulations, he proposed the Senate work to find a realistic future for coal and coal miners.

The resolution in question–sponsored by Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe– ultimately failed. But both of Kentucky's senators voted in support of the measure, and Mitch McConnell lambasted the EPA regulations on the Senate floor.

The proponents of the Utility MACT say it’s needed to improve air quality. What they can’t tell you is what those benefits would be, or the effect of leaving the plants in their current condition.

Look: we all support clean air, but if we waved through every regulation that promised to improve air quality without regard for its actual impact, we wouldn’t be able to produce anything in this country.

What we do know is a substantial amount of the electricity we produce in this country comes from coal, and this new regulation would devastate the jobs that depend on this cheap, abundant resource.

This is just one battle in the administration’s war on jobs, but it has devastating consequences for real people and real families in my state and in many others. The administration’s nonchalant attitude about these people is appalling, but this is precisely the danger of having unelected bureaucrats in Washington playing with the livelihoods of Americans as if they’re nothing more than pieces on a chessboard.

Of the Central Appalachian coal states (Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee), only Rockefeller and Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee voted against the resolution. Here's a full roll call of the vote.