By CHARLES OWENS
RICHLANDS, Va. — A large crowd — including some who were upset with U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., for his support of the federal cap and trade legislation — demanded answers Tuesday from the veteran lawmaker during a town hall meeting on coal and energy.
“To place an entire economic system at risk for an unproven theory seems a little bit risky to me,” said David Moore of North Tazewell, who questioned the concept of global warming and climate change during the town hall forum held on the campus of Southwest Virginia Community College.
“I’m definitely against cap and trade,” Bobby May of Hurley, who brought an anti cap and trade sign to Monday’s meeting, said. “I think you made a big mistake not voting against it. You sir are the only representative from a coal community to vote for cap and trade. Please explain to me sir what made you so smart, and made all of those other representatives dumb.”
May said U.S. Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., voted against the same measure in neighboring West Virginia.
Seth White, chairman of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, said voters can take a stand against the Environmental Protection Agency if Boucher and other Democrats are unwilling.
“I want to state today — there is something we do about the EPA,” White, one of about 150 people who attended the town hall meeting, said. “If the folks we have in the House and Senate won’t do anything we can elect new representatives who can.”
White also criticized Boucher for his support of President Barack Obama.
“I will say today when you support a president who vehemently hates coal, and hates Southwest Virginia, you didn’t do what is right for your district,” White added.
Boucher, who attempted to respond to each question, defended Obama.
“First of all he (Obama) doesn’t hate coal,” Boucher said. “He doesn’t hate Southwest Virginia. He’s been to Russell County. He’s been to Bristol. He’s been to Roanoke. He understands the importance of coal.”
Mike Hymes, also a member of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, disagreed with White, calling himself and Boucher “blue-collar” Democrats fighting for the region.
“Our congressman has 28 years of seniority,” Hymes said. “That puts him on committees that can bring broadband, water and sewer to our county.”
Jay Rife, of Grundy, also defended Boucher.
“Rick — you’ve been a good, courageous congressman for over 20 years,” Rife said. “Thank you very much. We love you.”
Boucher defended his decision to support the controversial cap and trade measure throughout Monday’s meeting. He was joined at Monday’s meeting by Hall Quinn, president and chief executive officer of the National Mining Association, Bob Blue, vice president of external affairs for Dominion Virginia Power, and Jim McGlothlin, president of the United Companies.
“What I did I did to help the industry and to make it better for coal,” Boucher said. “I was never asked by President Obama or the Speaker of the House to endorse this bill. If I was simply trying to please the president, one would think I would have voted for his top domestic priority — health care reform. I didn’t.”
Boucher said he voted against the federal health care reform measure because of the potential negative impact it could have on small hospitals in the Ninth Congressional District.
Don Meadows of Richlands had multiple questions for Boucher, including the bailout of General Motors, federal funding for ACORN and the selection of White House Czars.
Boucher said America was on the brink of another Great Depression last year — and another 200,000 people would have been placed on the unemployment lines if GM had failed. While the current unemployment rate stands at 10 percent — something Boucher called too high — he said the unemployment rate during the Great Depression was 30 percent.
“No one is claiming success here,” Boucher said. “But the situation has stabilized. We didn’t have the second Great Depression. If the auto industry had shut down another 200,000 people would have been thrust into the unemployment lines.”
Mike Zervos, president of United Coal Company in Johnson City, Tenn., asked Boucher about the administration’s push for nuclear power, and what impact that could have on coal.
“I believe the role of coal in the future is going to be even stronger than it is today,” Boucher said. “We will be selling more coal. I have no doubt about it.”
However, Boucher said a wide mix of all available fossil fuels, and a broad coalition, will be necessary to ensure adequate support for all fossil fuels. In terms of nuclear power, Boucher said he was personally convinced that a site selected in Nevada for the nuclear power facility proposed by the administration is the correct location for such a development.
Boucher also disputed the earlier comments by May that he was the only lawmaker from a coal producing community to support the federal cap and trade measure. Later in the meeting, he read the names of several other lawmakers that he said were from coal producing communities that voted in favor of the cap and trade measure in the House.
Critics of the federal cap and trade measure have labeled it a job killer, and argue it will negatively impact the coal mining industry in southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia while also causing energy rates to rise.
– Contact Charles Owens at email@example.com