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Coal miners rally in DC for Pruitt: 'We're just up here to protect our jobs'

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Coal miners rally in DC for Pruitt: 'We're just up here to protect our jobs'

A group of coal miners drove through the night from Ohio to Washington, D.C., to attend Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt's Jan. 18 confirmation hearing to lead the U.S. EPA, hoping he could offer some relief to coal country.

Danny Hayes has been a coal miner for 44 years and works as a supervisor at the Century Mine in Ohio owned by Murray Energy Corp. and operated by American Energy Corp. Hayes praised his boss, Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray, as a hard worker, and said coal has become less competitive as a fuel because of environmental regulations promulgated by the Obama administration.

"He's a super, super person. Fights very hard to keep our jobs. He's been under a lot of heat, you know," Hayes said of Murray. "He works endless hours to try to help us keep our jobs, and it's the least we can do to come here and support [his efforts]."

Hayes said the group of miners arrived at the Capitol at 6:45 a.m. on the day of the hearing, hoping to get into the room where members of the Senate were set to question Pruitt.

"Everybody's been real polite to us up here," Hayes said. "We're just up here to protect our jobs, support our families."

SNL Image

SNL Image

A group of coal miners traveled from Ohio to Washington, D.C., to support Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt at his Jan. 18 confirmation hearing to lead the U.S. EPA. Danny Hayes, top right, a 44-year veteran coal miner, speaks with David Lawson, who has been working in the Ohio coal mines for a year and a half.

Source: Annalee Grant/S&P Global Market Intelligence

The miner said Pruitt is going to try to protect coal miners' jobs by cutting back on over-regulation. He said rebuilding the coal industry is going to be a "joint effort" that will not be accomplished quickly.

"It's not going to happen overnight. It's taken years to get this messed up," Hayes said. "We are all going to have to work together as a whole and make the coal cleaner and still keep our jobs."

Hayes and his fellow miners were unable to get into the hearing in the morning, but he said it did not matter.

"It's very important [just to be here]. I've got 44 years, I'm almost done. We got younger guys coming to take our old guys' place. And the area we live in, it's the only income we have," Hayes said. "It's a triple dollar effect for us if the coal mines shut down. The stores go, the car dealerships go. Food chains go."

One of those younger miners, David Lawson of Illinois, said he came to Washington because he believes Pruitt would repeal some of the EPA's regulations that have been "forcing a lot of coal mines to shut down and [forcing] a lot of miners to have to find a different way to provide for their families."

Lawson has been a coal miner for a year and a half, having just completed a degree in mining engineering. He has been working at the Century Mine to gain experience and hopes to eventually transition into a role as an engineer. He said he has been enjoying the hands-on work.

"I'm actually getting to see and experience coal mining, which is great. I get to partake in what was a great tradition in America that's helped build this country and power it, so that's been really cool," Lawson said.

He does not intend to work underground for 44 years like Hayes, but said he is learning a lot as a miner.

With respect to Pruitt, Lawson said he is "going to work to try to level the playing field a little bit more, instead of the past Obama administration trying to stomp out coal."

"Scott's going to try to repeal some of the unnecessary stuff, and while we still do want clean air and clean water and stuff, [he's] going to make it to where we can make a living and still be respecting the environment," Lawson said.

Several of the Ohio coal miners were able to get a seat in the hearing in the afternoon session, where Republican Sen. Shelley Capito of West Virginia dedicated her first question, which related to the EPA's record of visiting West Virginia, to them.

Murray Energy spokesman Gary Broadbent confirmed that the National Mining Association, of which Murray Energy is a member, "offered its member companies the opportunity" to attend Pruitt's hearing to support the nominee. Broadbent said the group of miners from the Century Mine expressed an interest in doing so, and Murray Energy is pleased they were able to make the trip.

Based on the testimony offered by Pruitt, Broadbent said the nominee showed that he has the requisite knowledge and experience to be an "outstanding" administrator of the EPA.