Johnson visits area coal mine, rallies against "anti-coal" legislation

HAMDEN — The U.S. House of Representatives may be out of session, but Rep. Bill Johnson said he's not on "break" while back home in his district following an afternoon venture to the Sands Hills Coal Mine this past Wednesday.

The Republican legislator, whose 6th district covers all or part of 18 counties throughout the southern and eastern parts of Ohio, toured the expansive above-ground mines and reclamation projects several miles east of Hamden and Wellston.

Johnson, a member of the the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said he highly supported the efforts of the Sand Hills Coal Company and the coal industry as a whole. He criticized "over-regulation" from Congress and vowed to stand up against legislators who he said waged a "war on coal."

"We're going to do everything we can to stop them," Johnson said.

Johnson told representatives from the company they had "allies in Washington," adding that while renewable energy should be an important piece of America's plan going forward, coal should still be relied upon as a key resource.

"To think (renewable energy) is going to do the heavy lifting is wrong," he said. "Wind and solar can't meet our energy needs."

The tour included a visit to the company's coal and stone work and led visitors past grassy hillsides which had undergone reclamation to restore the land after it was mined.

Johnson got a chance to see the new mining technology first hand, climbing up a "hydraulic shovel" excavator to see its control room. Afterward, he posed next to it's 22 cubic yard bucket which sat twice as tall as as him.

Since taking office in 2011, Johnson has been one of Congress' leading figures in support of the coal industry. He previously introduced the Stop the War on Coal Act of 2012, which would have protected the industry from any federal regulation that threatened coal mining jobs or revenues. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives but not the Senate.

In his successful bid for re-election last year, Johnson raised more than $125,000 from the mining industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group which tracks campaign contributions. The mining industry is currently among the leading contributors to his re-election campaign for next year.

Johnson said his support for such energy policies preceded his political career, but acknowledged the relationship he's had with the coal industry since taking office.

"It's a collaboration ... it's a mutual understanding," he said. "(America) can still be number one in energy."

Chris Walton, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Rhino Resources Partners, which bought the Sands Hills Mine in 2007, said that the coal industry fights to maintain its energy presence throughout the country.

In the case of Sands Hills, which has been around since the 1950s, the company was forced to lay off nearly half its employees this past December, Walton said.

While the industry can feel old-fashioned, Walton said the process of mining and land reclamation has improved over the years due to better technology and resources.

"There's a lot more science than what it looks like," he said.