WILLIAMSON — The Williamson Daily News recently interviewed Attorney General, Patrick Morrisey, about the status of his ongoing battle with President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“At the core, this starts with efforts to protect West Virginia jobs. Coal is essential to West Virginia’s culture and it’s been the dominant job producer for so many years,” Morrisey said. “I’ve been motivated to do everything in my power to stop illegal and reckless EPA actions that harm our way of life.”
This issue started in 2012 when Morrisey ran for Attorney General. One of the main reasons he ran was to take on the EPA overreach.
“We talked about it a lot in my campaign and it struck me that the state of West Virginia had done virtually nothing to be a force against the EPA,” Morrisey said. “Yes, the state was involved in a couple of lawsuits here and there, but the Attorney General’s office was really absent. That’s not how you defeat a federal agency that’s pushing one of the single most unprecedented regulations in our state’s history.”
Morrisey’s primary motivation has been to fight the EPA in order to protect as many West Virginia jobs as possible.
“When I took office, one of the things that I knew we needed to do was to transform the office of the Attorney General and to hire some of the top constitutional lawyers in the country,” he said. “That’s how we ultimately could be positioned to advance the legal arguments to defeat the EPA and other federal agencies that crossed the line. And we were successful in those efforts.”
Between 2013 and 2014, Morrisey’s office hired two former U.S. Supreme Court clerks and several U.S. Court of Appeals clerks. Some of the most powerful lawyers in West Virginia and the country came to work in the Attorney General’s office.
“They came because they knew that fighting illegal EPA overreach was going to be our office’s top priority,” Morrisey said. “And then we started to dig into all of these regulations. When regulations would come out, we would scrutinize them very closely. We would write comments about them. That’s not something that the office of the Attorney General had done in the past. But we did that so we could better understand the regulation and to develop litigation against the EPA.”
That was critical because then the body of knowledge on these issues kept increasing. Thereafter, when the administration issued a proposal, in addition to filing comments and letters, the Attorney General’s office also filed briefs and suits before the rule was even finalized.
“That was your typical procedure. And we did this because we knew that West Virginia families were hurting badly,” Morrisey said. “We did not want to wait years for relief, because in West Virginia, we can’t afford another day of illegal EPA activity. We are already hurting so badly, it was critical to rush to the courthouse to assure that we are going to get our case heard in court.”
Though their initial efforts to the D.C. circuit were not successful, they decided to file an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We had worked on that brief for a long time. And in January we filed that brief and ultimately obtained a stay of the President’s ‘power plan,’” Morrisey said.
“That was an effort that ultimately involved 29 states and state agencies: Democrat’s Attorney General, Republican’s Attorney General, labor unions, coal operators, business owners, utilities and consumer groups — and from the middle part of 2014 up until now, the coalition has been steadily growing and growing and growing.”
The reason why the coalition has grown is because the more people started studying the EPA’s regulations, the more they understood that this was an assault on America’s families and the energy reliability in our country. That’s what motivated coal and non coal producing states to enter the fray.
“This has been a strong team effort. We worked collaboratively with all the states within the coalition. We had terrific lawyers within the office and within the states across the country,” Morrisey said. “We partnered up with all those entities in order to present the best possible briefs.”
That effort was ultimately rewarded by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Of course, we had very strong legal arguments but we also were very aggressive in getting the papers into the courthouse as quickly as possible,” Morrisey said. “As you know, four days after the Supreme Court put a stay on the President’s Power Plan, Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. The vote was five to four, in four days prior, so we feel very fortunate that one of Justice Scalia’s last acts was to freeze this incredibly damaging rule.”
When asked how he thought the current candidates would influence our future, Morrisey replied: “Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would be an unmitigated disaster for West Virginia coal miners and their families. So I am not supportive of either of their candidacies. They will just represent more of the same – the continuation of President Obama’s destructive policies on coal. President Obama made a promise back in 2008 that he was going to try to bankrupt coal companies and he is doing his best to fulfill his objectives.”
“Under a President Clinton or President Sanders, there will be no West Virginia comeback with respect to coal or energy. They do not like fossil fuels. And they have been very clear about it. Here’s my hope — that any of the Republican candidates that ultimately get nominated will seek to withdraw President Obama’s Power Plan so that we hopefully don’t have to go back and litigate this at the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Morrisey said that his goal was to be able to look into the eyes of coal miners and their families and say “I’m doing everything imaginable in order to try to protect your jobs and our way of life here in West Virginia.”
Morrisey said that West Virginia needs to stand with a large coalition in order to have even more effectiveness. Part of that is to go to the U.S. Senate and talk to the U.S. Senators about the clear illegality of the rule.
“They are in a position to talk to their colleagues and go back home and talk to their state about just how reckless the EPA is being,” he said. “I’ve been a big believer that you have to build a team. And you win when you have a large team and we have a really powerful team representing such a wide variety of interests.
“It’s hard to predict whether activity will ever return to the previous heights. However, I do think that there is an opportunity to have a comeback. While we may not go back to the previous heights, there’s a real opportunity to put people back to work and to ensure that coal remains an important part of West Virginia’s future.”
In the meantime, according to Morrisey, we need to do everything we can to create a better economic climate for southern West Virginia and for the entire state.
“One of the motivating reasons I ran for office is that I wanted to improve West Virginia’s workforce participation — which is currently ranked at the bottom of the country,” Morrisey said. “When you have less than 50 percent of people participating in your workforce, that’s a huge problem. We can’t predict that jobs will come back in the next few days, weeks or months, but we know that we are stopping some of the bleeding.”
Morrisey noted that it is imperative to have unified support across the board to protect and advance coal miners’ interests. “I support Bill Cole for governor and I think he will be a good partner in our efforts to take on the EPA,” Morrisey said.
“So we’re going to need the support across the board of the legislature, of the governor and of others, so we can finish the job. This was a very important victory before the U.S. Supreme Court. It has never happened before. Literally — this is a legal decision that the Supreme Court has never made before in the history of the republic. It’s never stopped a legislation that was pending before the lower court.”
“This is too important for people to play politics with. There are a lot of important elections coming up,” Morrisey said.
Morrisey noted that Congressman Evan Jenkins has been a strong supporter of his, as well as U.S. Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, who invited him to testify in Washington.
“We’ve had a lot of allies in-state and out-of-state and that’s made a difference,” Morrisey said. “The Kentucky Attorney General and their office have been terrific allies as well. And that’s an office where the Attorney General was a democrat. We work with people — regardless of party affiliation — to try to protect West Virginia coal.
“A point that I want to re-emphasize is that we worked really hard to bring in some of the best and brightest lawyers in the country,” Morrisey said. “And the people who worked on these briefs were two former U.S. Supreme Court Clerks, an individual who was the editor of the Yale Law Journal, and an individual who graduated at the top of his class at Georgetown Law. These people are just outstanding lawyers who are going to go on to have incredible distinguished careers. It’s my job as the Attorney General to try to find the best and the brightest.
“A few years ago, no one would have ever thought that West Virginia could be helping to lead such a large coalition. But when you can build an incredible team, that makes it easier and West Virginia should be out in front leading on these issues. Because this is about coal mines. And who other than West Virginia should be leading when we’re talking about coal and energy issues?
“And there’s no reason why West Virginia, with its amazing people, incredible beauty, its proximity to so many markets across the country, its competitiveness in terms of energy prices – there’s no reason why West Virginia can not only flourish, but over the long run – dominate,” Morrisey continued. “That should be our goal — that’s our standard — we should not accept anything less than the highest quality. That’s what West Virginia is all about.”
Kyle Lovern is editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at [email protected]; 304-235-4242, ext. 2277 or via Twitter @KyleLovern.