E2 Roundup: W.Va. gov's woes like other coal-state Dems'

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin's new lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over coal-mining rules and the quick GOP attack he faces highlight the struggles of coal-state Democrats to distance themselves from their party leaders on the environment.

Some coal-state Democrats have been able to do so effectively. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) — who worked closely with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders on last year’s House cap-and-trade bill — and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) — who was one of 44 Democrats to vote against the measure — are likely on their way to another two-year term.

But even Dem critics face trouble


Even some Democrats who opposed the bill — including Ohio’s Charlie Wilson and Lincoln Davis of Tennessee — are nonetheless facing Republican challengers who are linking them to Pelosi’s agenda, including the climate bill. “It’s reflecting poorly on them that their party passed this legislation,” The Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman told E2.

Greens aim to help vulnerable candidates

Environmental groups, meanwhile, are staying out of the West Virginia Senate race — arguing they don’t like the views of either candidate — while fighting to save the jobs of Democratic lawmakers from Appalachia who voted in favor of last year’s House cap-and-trade bill.
 
“It’s really taking a toll in Appalachia,” Wasserman said. “Democrats there have a harder time than usual.”
 
The Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund is focusing on the districts of Ohio Democrats Betty Sutton and John Boccieri with help from the environmental-labor BlueGreen Alliance.

The Sierra Club on Monday announced a grassroots campaign to help 29 Democratic challengers, including Eastern coal-staters Boccieri, Reps. Ben Chandler (Ky.), Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio) and Tom Perriello (Va.) and Senate challengers Alexi Giannoulias (Ill.), Robin Carnahan (Mo.) and Joe Sestak (Pa.).

Manchin says lawsuit not tied to Senate race

Manchin, in a press conference Wednesday morning that was announced late the prior evening, said the state would sue the EPA over its mountaintop-removal policies.

Manchin, who is running in a virtual dead heat with Republican John Raese to claim the seat left open following the death of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), said the lawsuit had been planned even before Byrd’s death in June.

Raese begs to differ

But Raese countered that Manchin had timed the announcement to coincide with his struggling Senate campaign and that Manchin’s environmental views are not that different from Obama’s. He has linked a bill Manchin signed into law last year promoting alternative electricity production to last year’s House cap-and-trade bill, which Manchin said he does not support.

Byrd would not have approved

The Hill’s Mike Lillis brings to E2’s attention this interesting footnote in Wednesday’s announcement: While Manchin is running to replace fellow Democrat Byrd (and according to The Associated Press invoked his legacy), the late West Virginia senator actually just in the last year came out against mountaintop removal and endorsed EPA’s guidelines when they came out in April.

“The industry of coal must also respect the land that yields the coal, as well as the people who live on the land,” Byrd said in a May 5 op-ed in the Charleston Daily Mail. “If the process of mining destroys nearby wells and foundations, if blasting and digging and relocating streams unearths harmful elements and releases them into the environment causing illness and death, that process should be halted and the resulting hazards to the community abated.”

Byrd’s op-ed came in the aftermath of the April 5 explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in his home county of Raleigh, which killed 29 and injured two others. 

Baucus opposes climate regs

Another senior coal-state Democratic senator — Montana's Max Baucus — said he supports a measure that would ban the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions and wants Congress to oversee the issue instead. "That would put too much power into few hands," Baucus said of EPA regulations, as quoted by the Great Falls Tribune following a speech he made Tuesday at a convention of the Montana Electric Cooperatives' Association. 
 Baucus said he prefers legislation to be written by congressional committees representing varying parts of the country and views on economic and environmental issues. “Not a shock, but very disappointing,” Clean Air Watch’s Frank O’Donnell e-mailed. "It is a clear sign that Baucus is more interested in coal than the climate."

Obama oil spill commission chastises administration’s early flow estimates
 
Staff for the bipartisan oil spill commission appointed by President Obama charged Wednesday that lowballed oil-flow estimates may have hampered attempts to plug the ruptured BP well, and that White House officials may have blocked release of “worst-case” discharge models.

The White House pushed back Wednesday and denied it blocked public release of early worst-case projections. 

Commission staff lay out other findings

The accusation was included in a series of four staff papers the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, a panel the White House created to explore the “root causes” of the disaster and recommend policy changes, issued Wednesday.

One paper also questioned whether Shell Oil’s response plan for a potential spill in Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast is “realistic,” which could provide ammunition to environmental groups that oppose Shell’s plans to conduct exploratory drilling, which the Interior Department has put on hold.

Shell scales back Arctic offshore drilling plan

Shell, for its part, is backing off plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea, the Arctic region that the spill commission focused on in questioning the practicality of the company’s response planning.

“Shell Oil announced Wednesday that it has scaled back its Arctic Ocean exploration plans in 2011 to promising sites in the Beaufort Sea, backing off prospects in the Chukchi Sea until legal clouds are cleared,” The Associated Press reports.

“Our plan is to drill in the Beaufort in 2011,” said Shell Alaska Vice President Pete Slaiby in the AP account. “The company has applied for one exploration well in the Beaufort off Alaska's north coast and will seek a permit for a second. The company will hold off applying for well permits in the Chukchi off Alaska's northwest coast until two court cases are resolved,” the story adds.

Administration continues to focus on oil alternatives

The findings come as the Obama administration has been focusing in recent days on announcements geared toward further developing alternatives to oil.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday officially signed the lease allowing for the long-fought Cape Wind project off of Nantucket Island.

It follows announcements Tuesday that the White House would install solar panels on the White House roof for the first time since President Carter’s administration, as well as the approval of first-time large-scale solar projects on federal lands.

On Tap Thursday: Former Bush DoE chief Spencer Abraham talks energy

Former George W. Bush administration Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham addresses the third annual energy supply forum hosted by the U.S. Energy Association on Thursday morning. Also participating at the event at the National Press Club is Russ Ford, head of onshore gas at Shell Oil Co., and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff.

On Tap Thursday part 2: Jagger, et al, talk oil dependence

Bianca Jagger adds some celebrity clout to a news conference launching the first of a three-day conference hosted by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas. The conference — which will also include speeches from Jagger and former Nixon and Ford Defense Secretary and Carter Energy Secretary James Schlesinger on Friday and Ralph Nader on Saturday — is billed as building “awareness of the energy crisis and the drastic consequences of shrinking oil supplies on our everyday lives, the economy, the environment and the military.”

The news conference is at 12:30 at the National Press Club.

Tips, comments or complaints? Please send them to ben.geman@thehill.com and dgoode@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @E2wire and @DarrenGoode