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GOP leader fights for coal against EPA

| Saturday, March 26, 2016, 7:09 p.m.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is shown at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is shown at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Patrick Morrisey, the West Virginia attorney general taking on President Obama's clean power plan, is no stranger to the hot seat: He parlayed a love of tennis as a young adult into becoming a line judge at the U.S. Open and other tournaments, regularly standing up to second-guessing by irate players and fans.

Fast forward to 2016. The 48-year-old transplanted New Jersey native is challenging the Obama administration's calls, joined by several mostly Republican states in suing to try to overturn federal greenhouse gas rules. He says taking the heat on the courts taught him to stay cool in court years later.

“You learn how to handle pressure when you have a crowd of people screaming at you for one of your calls,” Morrisey said. “Of course, I'd not like to repeat being booed out of the stadium. But that could be good practice for politics.”

Elected in 2012, West Virginia's first GOP attorney general in eight decades has made fighting “federal overreach” his mantra. He's leading a coalition of attorneys general that won a U.S. Supreme Court stay last month against Obama's clean power plan.

That plan against climate change focuses particularly on cutting pollutants from coal-fired power plants. Welcomed by many, it's blasted by critics as a possible knockout blow to the coal industry.

Pressed by Morrisey's group, the justices froze the Environmental Protection Agency's plan to reduce U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions 32 percent by 2030 — while legal challenges are pending.

In West Virginia, seven coal-fired power plants have shut in recent years, and more than 1,000 miners have lost work since December alone.

“I'm very fortunate to have this job at this time so I could fight for coal miners and make West Virginia a better place to live,” Morrisey said.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, co-chair of the attorney generals' group, said Morrisey's a fighter. “He quickly recognized what an impact it would have on West Virginia. I think that's why he grabbed the leadership mantle.”

More than a dozen other states support Obama's plan, while environmentalists criticize Morrisey as hindering moves toward cleaner energy sources.

“We believe that the attorney general's blind allegiance to coal is a disservice to future generations,” said Jim Kotcon of West Virginia's Sierra Club chapter. “The clean power plan is necessary to address climate change. We think the EPA is on sound legal ground.”

Of detractors, Morrisey said: “People aren't always going to be happy with every decision that you make. But if you make the right decision and you stick to it, good things will usually happen.”

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