The 113th session of the U.S. Senate began on Jan. 3, with the Democratic party gaining two seats as a result of the November election — only slightly increasing its majority control to 53. We take a look at the 10 central and southern Appalachian senators: Who represents us?
While serving as Virginia’s governor from 2006 through 2010, Kaine reached an ambitious goal to preserve more than 400,000 acres of open space and fund more than $1 billion in wastewater treatment projects to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Although Kaine was supportive of a new coal-fired power plant in Virginia, he also led a charge to implement voluntary greenhouse gas reporting. The effort did not pass the legislature but is indicative of his long-standing support for cap and trade policies to address climate change. Following Sen. Jim Webb’s retirement prior to the last election cycle, Kaine secured a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2012.
The senior senator from Virginia served as governor from 2002 through 2006 and was elected to the Senate in 2009. Typically possessing a strong environmental record including support of land conservation bills, the Democrat falters on issues of clean energy production and limiting pollution from fossil fuel power plants. Last year he voted for a measure to void the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants and against a bill that extended incentives for the development of wind energy. He also recently signed on to a letter urging the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
As governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin sued the EPA for allegedly overstepping its authority regarding mountaintop removal permitting guidelines, an issue the courts are still debating. In 2010, the conservative Democrat won a special election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Robert Byrd, and in 2013, he became the Chair of the Energy Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining. His first bill in the Senate was yet another attempt to repeal the EPA’s veto power over mining permits. During the 112th Congress, Manchin received more contributions from the coal industry than anyone in the Senate, raking in $418,900, nearly three times the amount of the next highest recipient.
West Virginia’s senior senator is a moderate Democrat with a mixed record on environmental issues. In a 1970 gubernatorial race, Rockefeller proclaimed that the “strip mining of coal must be prohibited by law, completely and forever,” but his landslide loss prompted him to change positions. He reversed his stand so strongly that as a senator in 1999 he voted to exempt mountaintop removal from the Clean Water Act and environmental mining regulations. Recently, however, Rockefeller has criticized the industry’s “war on coal” rhetoric and called for diversification of his state’s economy. As he will not seek reelection in 2014, Rockefeller has a year and a half to close the gaps in his otherwise strong environmental legacy.
The Senate Minority Leader has voted with fossil fuels at nearly every opportunity since joining the Senate in 1985. In 1999, he co-sponsored a bill to exempt mountaintop removal coal mining from the Clean Water Act. He and fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul introduced the Mining Jobs Protection Act, a 2011 bill that would chip away at the EPA’s ability to veto coal mining permits. McConnell has received more total campaign money from the coal industry than any other member of Congress — more than $700,000 as of the 112th session. At the end of 2012, polls ranked McConnell as the least popular senator in Congress.
The son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, the junior Republican senator is a libertarian Tea Party member and a self-proclaimed “great friend to coal.” Paul advocates for an energy policy governed by the free market, and frequently claims there is a “war on coal” that enforces onerous environmental standards and stifles industry. A supporter of mountaintop removal coal mining, Paul once said, “I don’t think anybody’s going to be missing a hill or two here and there.” Last year, he introduced the misnamed Defense of Environment and Property Act, which would severely reduce protections under the Clean Water Act by narrowing the definition of “navigable waters.”
Originally elected to the Senate in 2005, this staunch Republican drew condemnation from environmental advocates and conservationists in 2011 when he introduced a bill to eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by folding it into the Department of Energy. As a member of the Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure, he has routinely voted to reduce regulation on the fossil fuel industry. Although Burr voted against the expansion of wilderness areas during the 111th Congress, he is a co-sponsor of the Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act of 2013, which would make permanent appropriations for conservation initiatives on existing federal lands.
A junior Democratic senator who joined the U.S. Senate in 2008, Hagan is an advocate for small businesses and military families, and serves on the senate committees that represent both interests. She has consistently voted in favor of funding for renewable technologies and energy efficiency. Hagan introduced the Community Parks Revitalization Act of 2012 and is a co-sponsor of a bill to restore funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Shortly after the 2012 elections, Hagan joined other senators urging President Obama to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
A former governor, U.S. Secretary of Education, and presidential candidate, Sen. Alexander was first elected to the legislature in 2002. The veteran senator has served on the Committee on Environment and Public Works, was the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and this year joined the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Alexander has been criticized by the coal industry for his support of stricter controls on mercury and his opposition to mountaintop removal. In the 111th Congress, Sen. Alexander introduced the bipartisan Appalachia Restoration Act, a bill to prohibit valley fills from mountaintop removal operations, and held hearings on the issue. He strongly supports nuclear energy and is a fierce opponent of the development of wind energy.
Tennessee’s junior Republican senator was first elected in 2006 after serving as the mayor of Chattanooga. Sen. Corker often speaks about energy in terms of security and favors a broad approach including wind, solar, nuclear, enhanced oil and gas production, and investment in research and development. In 2007, he supported an amendment increasing fuel efficiency and he supports biofuel alternatives to foreign oil. Sen. Corker opposes a federal Renewable Electricity Standard that doesn’t include nuclear or hydroelectric power, but supports tax incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency.