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Coal at a crossroads with new EPA Administrator

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For decades the coal industry has been the economic backbone of the Two Virginias...

Now the industry many have come to depend on is at a crossroads, and experts point the finger at the Environmental Protection Agency, blaming them for their industry's uncertain future.

These days the coal industry is getting hit from all sides, and many in the industry say most of the attacks are in the form of new regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency. Hubert Payne is the General Manager of Rhino Eastern, a company that owns coal mines in Wyoming County. He says EPA regulations effect their ability to get permits to mine coal and sell it.

"You go out of business. People loose their jobs and the livelihood of the area suffers," says Payne

Two years ago he had 120 employees. Now he has 70.

"It's a difficult task to lay off your friends and neighbors.  It really is," says Payne.

The impact also trickles down to the business community to companies like Rish Equipment in Bluefield that depend on the coal industry for their livelihood.  In 18 months the company has gone from 80% of their business from the coal industry to 50%.  January of 2012 seemed to put that into perspective.

"When the market turned south and regulations were starting to be felt in the coal industry, we had a backlog of equipment sales. In January we were sitting comfortable that we had a nice year in front of us. By the end of that same month all of those orders were gone. 100% had canceled," says Buddy McGlothlin, V.P. of Sales for Rish Equipment.

"A lot of enthusiasm about what they want to do, but no one was writing a check to buy anything. That's where we are," says West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney.

Raney blames regulations from the EPA regarding carbon controls and greenhouse gases for creating an atmosphere where many in the coal industry wonder what the future holds.

"When you start effecting our people's jobs in West Virginia, then are you truly using basis of policy that is reliable enough to interrupt their way of life?" asks Raney.

"We ought to be really concerned that the Obama Administration cares more about the trees at the top of the mountain that it does about the people at the bottom of the mountain.  I'm beginning to believe that is the case and it concerns me very much," says Steve Roberts, President of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile, McGlothlin says with the declining business form the coal industry, Rish Equipment has diversified into other product lines and markets...

"We have actually started a rebuild center at one of our facilities. We are rebuilding components and things that we didn't do before," says McGlothlin.

So what is the relationship between the EPA and the coal industry?

Last August a group of democratic lawmakers from West Virginia traveled to Washington to meet with the new EPA Administrator to open a new chapter in their relationship.

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