WHEELING - Local members of Congress viewed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Director Lisa Jackson as a general in the Obama administration's "war on coal," but now they are wondering about the "unknown" and who might replace her after she announced plans Thursday to resign.
In Jackson's four years as EPA director, she has pushed for stricter greenhouse gas regulations that many believe are harmful to the local coal industry. The EPA's proposed emissions limits for new power plants led American Electric Power and other companies to curtail construction of new coal-fired facilities and prompted the closure of some existing power plants.
Rep. David B. McKinley, R-Wheeling, is among Jackson's most outspoken critics. He authored legislation that would have required the EPA to consider economic impact before instituting new environmental regulations, but it failed to pass the Senate.
McKinley termed Jackson a "known factor" in Washington and said pro-coal members of the House were becoming effective in blocking her regulatory efforts. He said her departure brings on the "unknown."
"She was a very aggressive regulator who clearly had coal, oil and gas in her crosshairs," McKinley said. "But at least I understood where she was coming from and could prepare for her testimony. ... I just hope the next director will be more sensitive to the effect fossil fuels have on our economy. It's one thing to shut down a mine, and another thing to shut down a community. That's the direction we were going."
Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, Ohio, said he was sure Jackson's intentions were good, but "her policies were simply wrong for America."
"I am hopeful that Jackson's successor will be someone who understands that America needs a true 'all of the above' energy policy, someone who is committed to lowering energy prices, making America more energy independent and creating much-needed jobs - especially in eastern and southeastern Ohio."
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-Charleston, said Jackson's departure provides President Barack Obama a chance to "invite West Virginia" to participate in forming the nation's energy policy.
"The EPA should be a working partner in our shared goal of energy independence, job creation and environmental protection, not a punitive imperialistic hammer driven by an ideological agenda," Capito said.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said while he and Jackson have disagreed, they were always able to have a respectful dialogue.
"I will continue to fight for a balanced energy policy for the United States - which is exactly what we have in West Virginia - and I look forward to working with anyone willing to help bring this common sense West Virginia approach to the 113th Congress," Manchin said.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said the EPA and the coal industry need leaders to take them into the future.
"My hope is that West Virginia can find common ground in advancing clean coal no matter who is at the helm of this important agency, because new technology is the only realistic and honest path we have to a secure future for our coal industry and - more importantly - our coal miners, " Rockefeller said.