Rahall wants more jobs; opponent wants him out
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall says he wants more than anything to bring new jobs into a 3rd District that has been hit by mining-related layoffs this year. Now, though, the West Virginia Democrat is fighting to keep his own job.
Rahall is seeking a 19th consecutive term in the U.S. House. To get it, he must defeat Republican Del. Rick Snuffer in Tuesday's general election.
"There's a lot of frustration, angst and concern about the current down cycle we're in, in the coal industry," said Rahall, 63. "That's the No. 1 concern."
Job losses in the mining industry are one reason Snuffer says Rahall shouldn't be re-elected. Snuffer blames the losses on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's reach in southern West Virginia. Critics allege the Obama administration is waging a "war on coal" through its energy policies, pursuit of environmental standards and handling of mining-related permits.
Snuffer, a first-term state delegate who lost to Rahall in 2004, said he believes the incumbent didn't do enough after the EPA clamped down on the permitting process for mountaintop mines.
The challenger also cited the congressman's vote against a 2011 Republican-backed House bill to give Congress greater authority over major federal rules such as those written by the EPA.
With Rahall's stances, "it's just hard to tell these coal miners out here that you really are fighting the EPA," said Snuffer, 51.
In September, Rahall voted for a GOP-led bill that would bar the EPA from restricting greenhouse gases, give states control over disposal of harmful coal byproducts and eliminate stricter fuel-efficiency standards for cars.
"I have for 36 years defended and worked for the coal industry and our coal miners in southern West Virginia, their health and safety being number one," he said. "For anybody to say that I have been anti-coal or pro-EPA, they're living in la-la land.
"My record clearly has shown me being pro-coal and anti-EPA," he added.
He said he supports diversifying the southern West Virginia economy and retraining laid-off miners for jobs in industries such as oil and gas, timbering, agriculture, tourism, technology and health services.
According to the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, six of the state's top 10 coal-producing counties are in the 3rd District, as are four of the top 10 natural-gas producing counties.
"Yeah, coal's No. 1. Has been, is and probably always will be," Rahall said. But "we need to strengthen all of those areas."
In September, the most recent month for which figures are available, eight of the 17 counties in the 3rd District had jobless rate increases, compared with two in the rest of the state. But eight 3rd District counties also saw unemployment rates drop. Two of the four counties in the state with double-digit unemployment rates — Boone and Webster — are within the district.
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