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September 19, 2014

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Politics:

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid has words of advice for coal miners

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Steve Marcus

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is joined by members of the Moapa band of Paiutes and environmentalists as he calls for the closing of NV Energy’s Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant during the National Clean Energy Summit 5.0 at the Bellagio Tuesday, August 7, 2012.

Sen. Harry Reid has written much about his childhood growing up in a mining town gone bust: its abandonment by gold miners onto better things and the drinking of those like his father who stayed behind.

But the Nevada Democrat doesn’t think the same fate befalls today’s coal miners in states such as Kentucky and Pennsylvania who worry new federal regulations on coal plants will make their town the next Searchlight.

Coal, unlike the gold found in the early 1900s underneath Reid’s southern Nevada hometown, will still need to be mined after federal regulations on coal plants go into effect, he said.

“Coal is still going to be an important part of what happens in America,” Reid said in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun this week. “The abundance of coal; everyone knows about that.”

But coal miners reacting to an Environmental Protection Agency proposal this week to limit emissions in coal plants aren’t so sure.

“Polluting the atmosphere, I can understand,” coal miner Clyde Settie told NPR before his shift in a small town in Pennsylvania. “But, you know, you're going to cost a lot of people a lot of jobs.”

Republicans in Congress, especially those representing coal country, are more blunt in their criticism for the new greenhouse gas regulations.

They’re “a dagger through the heart of the American middle class,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“The impact on individuals and families and entire regions of the country will be catastrophic, as a proud domestic industry is decimated,” McConnell said in a statement.

Despite his family’s mining past, Reid hasn’t exactly had a friendly relationship with coal. In 2008 he famously blurted out “coal makes us sick;” a line he’s been living down ever since. Just this week Reid admitted “I could probably have phrased that a little differently.”

Still, Reid is optimistic environmentalists and the coal community can find a happy medium. Investing in cleaner technology for burning coal is key, he said.

“We’re going to have to find cleaner coal technology than what we have now,” he said. “So I would say to the miners, ‘I think things are going to continue decently, and hopefully if we get more technology … there’s still a future for coal.’”

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