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GOP lawmakers hit EPA on coal, mine waste spill

Republican lawmakers used a Tuesday hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget to slam the agency’s chief over some home-state priorities.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) joined Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) in complaining about how EPA policies are hurting their coal-country constituents, while Rep. Chris StewartChris StewartGOP lawmaker who compared Trump to Mussolini will vote for him House GOP files brief in ObamaCare case Third-party candidates roil presidential race in Utah MORE (R-Utah) focused on the massive mine waste spill the agency caused in Colorado last year.

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Their comments were some of the few major disagreements at a hearing that was otherwise cordial.

“There are over 10,000 miners in my district who found themselves unemployed as a result of our ‘keep it in the ground’ strategy when it comes to coal. This committee has acted time and again to protect the mining industry, and the hard-working people that they employ, from the devastating impact of the actions of your agency,” Rogers told the EPA’s Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyAn opportunity to return balance to energy policy Why Trump needs a strong Agriculture secretary EPA chief: Pipeline rejections are not a ‘policy signal’ MORE at the hearing of a subcommittee of his panel.

“Here you are, asking for more taxpayer money to put toward this job of killing coal,” he said, pointing to a requested $50 million budget increase to implement the Clean Power Plan, which is on hold thanks to a Supreme Court decision.

McCarthy defended the regulation limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

“We are not looking to preclude coal from being part of the energy system, and indeed, we project that it will continue to be,” she said. “But we do believe that facilities can comply, and we think that states will be able to meet the requirements under the Clean Power Plan.”

Jenkins used his questioning time for a six-minute prepared speech about the decline of coal-dependent communities, which he blames on the EPA.

“For almost eight years, the administration has unapologetically and systematically worked to shut down our country’s most abundant, reliable and cheapest form of energy: coal. What this administration and EPA doesn’t understand is what their actions have done to the people of West Virginia,” he said.

Jenkins asked McCarthy if she has been to West Virginia since becoming EPA’s head, and she responded that she is not sure.

He then went on to outline the problems he attributes to President Obama’s environmental regulations.

“Coal jobs provide a true, living wage to support a family. Coal jobs also come with really good benefits, a pension and the healthcare benefits a retiree can count on,” he said.

“But not anymore. The bankruptcies of our country’s largest coal companies have left pensioners and widows desperate for help. And because of your actions, West Virginia now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the entire country.”

He read letters he’s received from various constituents who rely on economic activity from the coal sector in one way or another and talked about what Congress and others have done to try to stop the administration’s rules.

“Despite our best efforts, you have succeeded in wrecking our economy and ruining the lives and livelihoods of thousands of our citizens,” he said. “Regardless of one’s belief in the president’s climate change agenda, his drive, your drive, to succeed has been devastating to the people of West Virginia, and to the tens of thousands of others across the country who worked to fuel this nation.”

Stewart asked McCarthy if anyone had been punished for the spill at Gold King Mine, which sent 3 million gallons of toxic heavy metals into nearby streams.

“It was a mistake,” she said. “Have I found anyone that didn’t act responsibility and that should have know better? So far, the independent analysis that we’re seeing has not identified negligence, but we’re still continuing to look at that issue and would welcome anyone else doing that as well.”

He then said that many of his constituents see a double standard in how the EPA dealt with the disaster.

“I think the challenge you have is to fight the perception — if it is only a perception, and I’m not sure it is — but to fight the perception that the federal government treated themselves differently than they would have treated a private company,” Stewart said. “Because I think there’s a consensus among at least my constituents that there’s a double standard here.”

McCarthy agreed.

“We need to be clear about what we’re doing and why, and be held fully accountable for this,” she said.