House Republicans, Romney take aim at Obama’s stance on coal industry

House Republicans, Romney take aim at Obama’s stance on coal industry

Republicans have declared war on what they call President Obama’s “war on coal.”

House Natural Resources Committee Republicans on Friday escalated their year-long investigation into the Obama administration’s planned rewrite of coal-mining regulations imposed by President George W. Bush.

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Committee Chairman Doc HastingsRichard (Doc) Norman HastingsCongress just resolved a 20-year debate over Neolithic remains Boehner hires new press secretary GOP plots new course on Endangered Species Act reform MORE (R-Wash.) released internal Interior Department documents that he said showed the toll the planned regulations will take on the economy.

“Thousands of jobs, American energy production and the economic livelihoods of communities across the country will be impact by this regulation,” Hastings said Friday during a press conference in the Capitol. “The stakes are extremely high.”

The committee investigation is just one example of a broader Republican campaign to paint Obama as the enemy of the coal industry – a push that Democrats say is intended to score political points going into the election.

The Republican National Committee organized a conference call this week to counter Vice President Biden’s trip to coal country in Ohio. While Biden touted Obama’s help for a resurgent U.S. auto industry, Republicans on the call labeled the White House energy policy “an assault on coal.”

Republicans have zeroed in on proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations, unveiled late last month, to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.

The regulations, they say, deal a death knell to the coal industry because coal-fired power plants can only comply with the rules if they install technology that is not yet available on a commercial scale. But many plans for new coal plants had been scuttled even before the rules were proposed because of competition from inexpensive natural gas.

In addition, Republicans howled last week when they discovered that Obama’s campaign website made no mention of coal when describing his “all-of-the-above” energy plan.

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), a strong advocate of coal-fired power, claiming that the website illustrated the administration’s “deep-seated hatred for coal and the electricity generated by coal.”

The criticism quickly got the attention of the Obama campaign, which quickly added a section on “clean coal” to the website.

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said last week that “clean coal” has “been an essential part of the president’s all-of-the-above energy strategy.”

But that hasn’t satisfied Republicans, who have increasingly attacked Obama over coal as falling gasoline prices have deflated GOP criticism of the president on oil and gas production.

Mitt Romney has made criticism of Obama on coal a standard part of his stump speech.

“He's making it harder and harder to get coal mines and coal used in this country, and yet he says he's for ‘all of the above,’” Romney said in Charlotte, N.C. last week.

“And I couldn't figure out what he means because he's been fighting oil and coal and gas–and then it came to me. He’s for all the sources of energy that come from above the ground, alright? And I'm for all the energy that comes from above the ground and below the ground.”

Meanwhile, Hastings issued his second subpoena last week to the Interior Department for documents related to the agency’s planned aimed at curbing environmental damage from Appalachian coal mining.

Interior plans to rework rules issued at the end of the George W. Bush administration that regulate the dumping of debris from mountaintop-removal coal mining into nearby waterways.

Republicans argue the Obama administration’s planned rules could cost jobs and impose a huge economic burden on the coal industry. But environmental groups and others say the Bush-era regulation, known as the Stream Buffer Zone Rule, does not adequately protect streams and other waterways from mountaintop-removal mining.

Hastings, at his Friday press conference, accused the administration of ignoring the subpoenas.

“By their actions, it appears the Obama administration is determined to keep these documents secret,” Hastings said. “But the documents raise serious questions about how they are conducting this rewrite and the negative economic consequences of the rewrite.”

Hastings released more than 30-hours of audio recordings between Interior Department officials and a contractor hired to work on the new rules.

In one transcript of an audio recording highlighted by the committee, an official at the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining appears to suggest that the planned regulations would protect just 15 miles of streams.

“[I]t’s called the stream protection rule, right? So people are going to be focused on that,” the officials said in the transcript. “That is going to be a headline story. 15 miles, after all this effort 15 miles.”

Pressed by reporters Friday, Hastings acknowledged that the documents and audio recordings provide an incomplete picture of the administration’s internal deliberations.

Hastings insisted that he’s not “drawing conclusions” about the regulations.

“I’m not here to claims these documents and hours of recordings provide complete answers to what the administration is doing,” he said. “But they certainly do raise serious questions.”

But the Interior Department and Democrats in Congress have dismissed the GOP investigation, alleging it is rooted in election-year politics.

They note that the planned regulation being investigated by Republicans hasn’t even been proposed yet. Therefore, they say, the GOP allegations have very little credibility.

“To be clear, there is no rule. The committee continues to spend its time investigating a draft document for a draft rule that hasn’t even been proposed, let alone completed,” Interior spokesman Adam Fetcher said in an email.

Fetcher said the documents released by Hastings Friday – which he said came from an source outside Interior – show that “there is a lot of analysis, discussion, and input that’s needed if we’re going to have a balanced rule that continues to support the development of important domestic resources.”

He added: “We look forward to the committee’s input on the substantive issues at any time, including once a rule is proposed, but the committee’s cherry-picking of the documents to manufacture a false narrative shows again that their investigation is about politics, not good policymaking.”

Eben Burnham-Snyder, a spokesman for Rep. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyMarkey challenges Democratic Senate campaign opponents to climate change debate Kennedy launches primary challenge against Markey Markey fundraises ahead of Kennedy primary challenge MORE (D-Mass.), the top Democrat on the committee, suggested that Republicans are shills for the coal industry.

“We have already lost hundreds of miles of streams to mountaintop removal mining. Congress should be supporting the Obama administration’s efforts to do something about this problem, not engaging in a sideshow designed to distract the American public from serious threats to public health and the environment,” he said in an email.