Markey said the mine had received more than 1,300 citations for safety violations from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration since 2005.
The executives said that level of citations was high, but added the Upper Big Branch mine posed different hazards than other mines. The executives all said the safety of miners was a priority for the industry.
Officials from Massey Energy, which owns the Upper Big Branch mine, did not attend Wednesday's hearing.
Markey said the explosion, the deadliest in four decades, required a closer look at the “entire structure of mining safety.”
As they defended their own companies’ safety records, Peabody chief executive Gregory Boyce, Arch Coal chief executive Steven Leer and Rio Tinto Chief Executive for Energy and Minerals Preston Chiaro also sought to distance themselves from Massey Energy and its outspoken chief executive Don Blankenship on climate issues.
Blankenship has called global warming a “hoax” and a “Ponzi scheme.”
Climate change was a “serious” issue that needed to be addressed, the executives said.
But House-passed climate legislation would drive up the costs of coal, hurting the industry and the broader economy, the executives said. They also oppose the effort by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through the Clean Air Act.
Peabody would support the “right kind” of climate legislation that allowed carbon reduction technologies like carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to develop before imposing strict emissions caps, Boyce said.
Boyce said the EPA should “take a step back” and re-examine whether carbon dioxide emissions were a threat to human health and welfare.
EPA’s endangerment finding is the legal underpinning of its push to regulate greenhouse gases.
Mistakes in the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) call for a further evaluation of the climate science to, “put to rest all of these issues,” Boyce said.
Peabody has filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in hopes of blocking EPA. The petition says EPA relied on faulty data to reach its endangerment finding.
The strongest complaints by contrast came from Michael Carey, the president of the Ohio Coal Association who also testified Wednesday.
He said the Obama administration had declared a “war on coal’ through its regulatory efforts to reduce pollution.
That comment particularly agitated Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), who described the climate bill as a lifeline for the industry. The bill would give an estimated $60 billion in subsidies to the sector over the next two decades to develop cleaner technologies through a new fee on transmission lines and also from the sale of pollution allowances in a market the bill creates.
“We don’t give $60 billion to Al Qaeda,” Inslee said. “We don’t give $60 billion to industries we are at war with.”
Markey also described the bill as a bridge for the industry to adjust to new caps on carbon dioxide.
Coal use accounts to around 30 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the nation from human activity. But coal accounts for around 50 percent of the electricity production.
Markey said natural gas and renewable sources like wind and solar power are growing already, eating into coal’s dominant position in electric generation. He said the industry needed the money the bill he co-authored with Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) would provide it.
“The industry itself cannot generate the enormous investment that is needed to perfect and deploy CCS,” Inslee said.