Environmental activists immediately praised Rockefeller as a politician who now sees the light, while the coal industry expressed shock. Citing all of the EPA’s War on Coal rhetoric in Appalachia, Rockefeller berated coal industry leaders and said, “The reality is that many who run the coal industry today would rather attack false enemies and deny real problems than find solutions.” Readers can review his speech in its entirety at: http://www.rockefeller.senate.gov.

Rockefeller said that two years ago he tried to break the logjam in Congress with a plan that would have given them an opportunity to address carbon issues legislatively. He said coal operators went for broke when they demanded a complete repeal of all EPA authority to address carbon emissions forever. “They demanded all or nothing, turned aside a compromise and in the end got nothing,” Rockefeller said. Last year, the coal industry, according to Rockefeller, ran exactly the same play, demanding all or nothing on the cross-state air pollution rule and they lost again, badly. In Rockefeller’s eyes, the Inhofe Resolution represented yet another all-or-nothing resolution destined to fail.

The coal industry could probably follow the logic of a frustrated politician trying to be diplomatic, but then he went on to defend the “science” behind the EPA’s decision, which the National Mining Association and other groups have questioned and largely discredited. He also blamed power generators for continuing to take profits on plants rather than upgrading them.

Rockefeller said the natural gas industry looks to the future, while the coal industry clings to the past. “It’s not too late for the coal industry to step up and lead by embracing the realities of today and creating a sustainable future,” Rockefeller said. “Discard the scare tactics. Stop denying science.”

The Inhofe Resolution failed by four votes. Rockefeller’s vote would not have mattered, but what he said does. His views in a lot of ways invoke the class warfare rhetoric coming from Democratic leadership during this election year. In his speech, he referred to organized labor negotiations and past leaders from the 1980s, showing that he too clings to the past. He vilifies coal and utility executives, blaming decisions in the “boardroom.” What he also fails to explain to the miners is that the EPA has tipped the scales in favor of natural gas. There is a lot more on the line here than mining jobs. When these coal companies go out of business, the knock-on effect will be enormous. Will West Virginia pick up the tab for unfunded legacy costs, such as retirees and their dependents? Rockefeller not only angered an entire generation of active coal miners, he also just abandoned a generation of retired folks that put him in power.