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The Republican Party of Virginia says state Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, D-Russell, is whistling and cheering as President Barack Obama kills the coal industry.
The RPV’s attack comes on the heels of warnings from American Electric Power, one of the nation’s largest utilities, that new air quality rules from the Environmental Protection Agency could force the company to shutter as many as 20 coal-fired plants and fire hundreds of employees.
That’s added fuel to the fire in coal-rich Southwest Virginia, which is served by Applachian Power, an AEP subsidiary. The state GOP has declared war on the EPA for imposing "job-killing" regulations and is calling Puckett "President Obama’s lead cheerleader in Southwest Virginia."
"He talks a good game on his campaign website, but when Southwest Virginia needed Puckett to stand up for coal jobs, Puckett stood up for President Obama," a recent release from the RPV says. "Phil voted NO on sending the EPA a message that they’ve gone too far, not once, but twice."
We wondered whether Puckett really did vote twice to back the EPA.
To support the claim, the state GOP points to two identical pieces of legislation from this year’s General Assembly session -- one introduced in the House, the other in the Senate.
The measures, however, make no mention of the EPA or coal.
The GOP release refers to two resolutions calling for a "repeal amendment" that were killed in the Democrat-controlled state Senate. The measures called for a U.S. constitutional amendment that would nullify any federal law or regulation at the vote of two-thirds of all the state legislatures.
What does that have to do with coal jobs? Not a lot, other than the fact that if the repeal amendment survived an extremely difficult path to national ratification, then one of the countless regulations two-thirds of the state legislatures could theoretically agree to repeal might be an EPA rule affecting the coal industry.
To date, North Dakota has the only state legislature that has endorsed the repeal amendment, according to Raegan Weber, director of public affairs for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization promoting the constitutional change.
Garren Shipley, a spokesman for the state GOP, said the intent of the repeal amendment was to alert Washington it is encroaching on states’ rights. That’s different from his party’s claim that the amendment's purpose was "sending the EPA a message that they’ve gone too far" in regulating the coal industry.
The next problem is that Puckett technically did not vote against the resolution twice -- or even once.
The measure introduced on the Senate side, sponsored by Sen. Ryan T. McDougle, R-Hanover, was killed by a seven-member subcommittee of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee. Puckett is not a member of the subcommittee and did not participate in its vote.
Puckett is a member, however, of the full 15-member Privileges and Elections Committee. Its chairman -- Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax -- declined a procedural request by GOP senators to resurrect the resolution and allow it to be considered by the full committee. When Republicans objected, Puckett voted with other Democrats to uphold Howell’s authority to set the docket.
The House version of the resolution, sponsored by Del. James M. LeMunyon, R-Fairfax, was left in the same committee without ever coming up for a vote.
Shipley conceded to us that Puckett didn’t cast a single vote directly on the repeal amendment, but insisted the Democrat "did everything he could to prevent it from being brought to the floor."
Now, here’s the kicker: Puckett actually sponsored a resolution this year that urged Congress to stop the same type of environmental regulations the state GOP accuses him of supporting.
Puckett’s resolution died in the Senate Rules Committee. It would have urged Congress to adopt legislation "prohibiting EPA by any means necessary from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, including if necessary defunding EPA greenhouse gas regulatory activities." The measure also asked for at least a two-year moratorium on new air quality rules.
So let’s look back.
The state GOP says Puckett betrayed his Southwest Virginia constituents by voting twice against sending the EPA a message that new regulations would harm the coal industry.
Here’s the reality: The repeal amendment, which the Republicans use as the basis for the claim, has no direct tie to the EPA or coal. It could just as easily apply to any federal law or regulation in existence, from health care reform to playground safety requirements. Puckett didn’t vote twice against the amendment; he didn’t vote on it at all. Lastly, Puckett actually introduced a resolution seeking to achieve the very goal the GOP accuses him of opposing.
This one’s more than a stretch, it’s absurd. Pants on Fire!
Republican Party of Virginia, "Democrat Phil Puckett: President Obama’s Man in Southwest Virginia," June 16, 2011.
Legislative Information System, Senate Resolution 29, accessed June 22, 2011
Legislative Information System, Senate Joint Resolution 280, accessed June 21, 2011
Legislative Information System, House Joint Resolution 542, accessed June 21, 2011
Email interview with Trey Nix, campaign manager for Sen. Phillip P. Puckett
The Washington Post, "GOP cries foul over Democratic refusal to hold full committee vote on repeal amendment," Jan. 25, 2011
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