Joe Manchin, Struggling in Senate Race, Announces EPA Suit over Mining Rules

Joe Manchin headshot, as West Virginia Governor, 2006. CBS/AP

CBS/AP

West Virginia's Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin, who is currently in a tight Senate race, announced today that his state is filing a lawsuit against the Obama administration's efforts to curb mountaintop removal coal mining.

The state's legal challenge against the Environmental Protection Agency puts the governor at odds with the president at a time when Manchin is suffering in the polls because of his association with the Democratic Party in Washington.

At a press conference today, Manchin said the suit is intended to stop the EPA's "attempts to destroy the coal-mining industry and our way of life," the Charleston Gazette reports.

An attorney representing the state said the lawsuit is challenging the more rigorous standards the EPA has adopted under the Obama administration for issuing permits for coal mines, according to the Gazette. The suit also seeks to block the implementation of tougher water quality standards.

The Associated Press reports that a state official said today that Manchin decided to file the suit now after months of waiting for the EPA to file a permit in a manner that could be challenged on procedural grounds.

Manchin said the suit had nothing to do with his Senate bid.

"I'm a governor first," he said, according to the AP. "That's my first and foremost job."

West Virginia's coal industry says that mountaintop mining is efficient and creates high-paying jobs in the state, but evidence shows the practice is harmful to the region's environment.

Manchin, like most West Virginia politicians, has been protective of the coal industry. He's butted heads before with the EPA; in March of this year, he signed a letter along with other governors opposing the agency's regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

The governor, who holds strong favorability ratings, announced in July that he would run for the Senate seat left open by Sen. Robert Byrd's death in June.

In spite of his popularity, Manchin is struggling in the Senate race against Republican businessman John Raese, CBS News political consultant Marc Ambinder reports. Raese has doggedly worked to associate Manchin with the national Democratic party.

President Obama's approval rating in the state stands at less than 30 percent, so the governor must do what he can to distance himself from the White House. Last month, he walked back earlier support for the president's health care overhaul.

CBSNews.com Special Report: Campaign 2010

Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.

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