Hearing reveals continuing differences between the coal industry and federal attempts to tackle climate change
The big three of American coal were called on to the carpet by Congress today - nine days after one of the deadliest mine accidents in history - for trying to block climate change legislation.
Big coal is leading the campaign to defeat a climate and energy bill in Congress and to block the Obama administration from using its regulatory powers in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to put curbs on emissions.
Ed Markey, the coal companies' host today, co-wrote the climate and energy bill they are trying to destroy.
So the welcome from the chair of the house select committee on energy and global warming to the chief executives of Peabody Energy Corporation, Arch Coal Inc, Rio Tinto and the Ohio Coal Association, was a tad - shall we say - frosty.
Today's hearing was also momentarily disrupted by protesters in surgical masks who dumped handfuls of coal on the table in front of the execs.
Here's Markey in his opening remarks: "I ask you that you cease efforts to deny the science of global warming and stop spending millions of dollars misleading the public on the true science behind climate change."
And here's Michael Carey, president of the Ohio Coal Association, in his: "The role for coal in the new energy age is greatly hampered by the regulatory assault waged by the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency and in particular the 'war on coal'."
That earned Carey a sharp reprimand from Democrat Jay Inslee of Washington, who noted that the house version of the climate and energy bill offered $60bn to the coal industry for the development and deployment of clean coal technology. "We don't give $60bn to people we are at war with. We aren't giving $60bn to al-Qaida," he said.
Today's hearing also comes barely a week after 29 miners were killed in a West Virginia mine operated by Massey Energy Corp - America's fourth-largest coal company.
Of America's coal barons Massey's CEO, Don Blankenship, is the brashest and least apologetic when it comes to environmental concerns. In public appearances and on his Twitter feeds, he has denounced global warming as a hoax and lambasted government safety regulations for mines. The company has been cited tens of thousands of times for environmental and safety violations by government inspectors. It has paid more than $7.6m in fines for breaching safety regulations.
The executives were whether they agreed with Blankenship that climate change is a hoax. Peabody, Arch and the Ohio Association have all joined lawsuits challenging the EPA's authority to regulate emissions.
Carey, in his opening remarks, repeated that position, saying: "We believe that the science undermining the EPA finding is questionable." The three other executives on the stand all claimed to believe in the science, just not the need for regulation.
However, Peabody's Gregory Boyce also said there needed to be an independent review of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) and other science. "We think the EPA should take a step back and do more work."
Aside from Rio Tinto, the executives were also opposed to the idea of putting mandatory curbs on emissions rather than leaving it to technology to find a cleaner way to burn coal.
So is there a chance for reconciliation? Markey, in his closing remarks, said dealing with climate change did not need to be an adversarial process. But he also made it clear he thought coal industry in America was dying - with or without the prospect of climate change regulation.
No new coal plants were built last year. America's use of coal slid from 49% to 44%. Prices, meanwhile, have risen by 60% in the last five years. "We do believe there is an inexorable decline. We see it year after year," he told the executives.
That may be, but big coal is not giving in yet.