WHEELING - Sen. Joe Manchin said the federal government "absolutely" is waging a "war on coal" - and he said knows this is so because he sees coal states being targeted by environmental regulations not in place elsewhere.
"Let me tell you how you know there's a war on coal," the West Virginia Democrat said during a stop last week in Wheeling. "It's not just a metaphor. ... (It's) anytime the Environmental Protection Agency - or any federal agency - holds an entire region, area or state at a higher standard than anywhere else.
"The way the EPA is interpreting Appalachian mining - the water quality coming from Appalachian mining is held at a higher, more stringent requirement than anywhere in America. ... So it is a directed attack on us," he continued.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., talks about the 'war on coal' during a visit to Wheeling recently. Manchin said evidence of that 'war' can be found in the stricter environmental regulations that target coal-producing regions. -- Jennifer Compston-Strough
Manchin also noted that anyone who builds a coal-fired electric plant in America must sequester the carbon dioxide that results from use of the fuel.
"The only problem is, the federal government - or the combination of a public-private partnership - has never proven we can do this in a commercial situation," Manchin said. "That's the whole reason why the Energy Department was moving toward trying to build the FutureGen - handling the CO2.
"They've never done it. But yet, they (the federal government) are invoking a rule that says you have to do this, and it isn't reasonable."
FutureGen 2.0 is a clean energy project that aims to build a near-zero emissions coal-fired electricity plant in Illinois. The technology employed is expected to capture more than 90 percent of carbon emissions, which will be stored underground. Construction is set to begin late this year. The project is headed by a nonprofit alliance and supported with $1 billion in federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Most of the nation's energy research dollars are going to renewable energies, but there also is less of a financial return on that investment, according to Manchin.
"I'm not against renewables," he said. "But as a practical person, I wouldn't double down when I'm only expecting to get a 16 percent return on the energy I believe renewables will give us in the future.
"Why would you spend 60 percent of your resources and only get 16 percent back?" he continued. "Then you cut your coal and natural gas research to almost non-existence."
Coal represents 45 percent of the domestic energy sources available, and natural gas another 20 percent, according to Manchin. Together they account for 65 percent, or more than half of the energy supply in America.
Manchin acknowledged coal production has been increasing - a fact he attributes to an increase in worldwide demand. And he noted West Virginia coal accounts for 50 percent of the coal that is exported.
About 8 billion tons of coal was used worldwide in 2011, he continued, while less than 1 billion tons was used in America.
Manchin added much of the coal is going to China, which accounts for nearly half of the world's coal consumption at 4 billions tons a year.
"If you believe if you stop burning every lump of coal in America - when there's 8 billion tons being burned in the world - and you're going to clean up the atmosphere, then you believe the world is flat," Manchin said.