The GOP regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives by picking up 61 seats, narrowed the gap in the Senate by winning six seats and captured five governorships. The party also made major inroads in state legislatures. In Virginia, veteran Congressman Rick Boucher, a Democrat who was generally regarded as a friend of coal, was turned out of office after casting a key vote on the cap-and-trade bill that narrowly passed the House, 219 to 212, on June 26, 2009. The measure has gone nowhere in the Senate.

George Ellis, president of the Pennsylvania Coal Association, noted Republicans swept the statehouse in the Keystone state, with Tom Corbett easily defeating Democrat Dan Oronato for governor and the party seizing both the House and Senate. Ellis and the PCA had locked horns with outgoing Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat who strongly supported renewable energy resources such as wind and solar power as a way to reduce the state’s reliance on electricity generated from coal. When the new Legislature convenes in Harrisburg in early 2011, Ellis thinks coal will have more allies.

That certainly is expected to be the case in Indiana, where Republicans strengthened their hold in both the House and Senate. They now control a “quorum-proof” majority in the Senate—37 to 13, meaning, “They don’t even need the Democrats to conduct business,” said J. Nathan Noland, president, Indiana Coal Council.

Even one Democratic victory, that of West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, who was elected to the U.S. Senate by beating Republican John Raese, was largely hailed as triumph for coal. “We are excited about the way the election went in terms of Governor Manchin being elected to the Senate,” said Bill Raney, president, West Virginia Coal Association. When Manchin goes to Washington in January, he said, “He will begin to focus more attention on the inaction of the EPA” in terms of mine permitting, “and the complications that has brought to the Appalachian states.”

Indeed, a half-dozen coal officials interviewed for this story agreed their top priority for the new Congress is to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s determined efforts to regulate greenhouse gases. “We need Congress to stop all of the EPA administrative rulemakings and MSHA rulemakings where they’re attempting to pass things or issue policies on something they could not get passed through Congress,” said Raney, who believes the Mine Safety and Health Administration has become too activist as well.

Phil Gonet, president, Illinois Coal Association, put it another way. “We’re not opposed to doing something about climate change, but it has to be done by the Congress, not by the bureaucrats…Congress hasn’t acted so the bureaucrats are.”

Noland pointed out that other issues besides cap-and-trade are causing headaches for the industry. For example, he said the EPA is using the Clean Water Act “to slow down and stop mining in certain areas. They’re moving to do away with the general NPDES [National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems] permit for coal mines. They want them to be individual permits.” In Indiana, an unidentified coal company is arguing with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management “that there needs to be a general” environmental impact statement for a mine area, Noland said.

Russ Harding, director of the property rights network for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free market think tank headquartered in Midland, Mich., called the EPA the worst offender of overregulating the economy. “The EPA is currently engaged in several significant rulemaking initiatives including regulating CO2 emissions, stricter ozone standards and classifying coal fly ash as a hazardous waste,” he said. “The additional cost of proposed EPA rules will singificantly add to the cost of doing business and further diminish American’s economic competitiveness.”

With Republicans emboldened by the election and eyeing the 2012 presidential race when Democrat President Barack Obama is expected to seek re-election, many observers predict the next two years will be marked by massive gridlock on Capitol Hill. Raney, though, is hopeful the industry can get some relief on the regulatory front. “We’re getting to the point where we’ve got to have some permits and some realistic policies,” he said.

Noland agreed. He plans to usher in 2011 “being somewhat optimistic the oversight process may become more public” in Congress, “and there will be pushback from some that may support a more realistic use of the current regulations. Maybe we don’t have to worry as much about Congress coming after us, but we still have to be concerned about Congress being helpful to us.”