"I know the coal companies are going after me. ... I can live with that, because I know that I am fighting every day for coal miners," Rockefeller said.
Rockefeller defended his support of Obama and the president's signature health care overhaul, and insisted that their unpopularity with West Virginians did not influence his decision to retire.
"I'm proud of that work, and if people don't like it, the more it comes into effect the more they will understand that it's good," he said of the health care reform.
Rockefeller said the Senate achievement he is most proud of is the 1992 measure aimed at preserving retirement benefits for miners, their widows and children, which he credits for averting a national coal strike. He also has championed stricter coal dust limits in response to a rise in mining-related black lung disease and proposed increased safety measures after the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster killed 29 West Virginians.
Other top issues he has had a hand shaping include child welfare, cybersecurity and foreign trade. He chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and previously served at the helms of Intelligence and Veterans' Affairs. He co-sponsored legislation creating the states-level Children's Health Insurance Program, and helped persuade the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department to revisit disability claims arising from what has become known as "Gulf War Illness."
The great-grandson of famed industrialist John D. Rockefeller first arrived in West Virginia as a volunteer with the VISTA national service program in 1964. Within two years, he had won election to the Legislature, and then as secretary of state in 1968. After a failed run for governor in 1972 and four years as president of West Virginia Wesleyan College, Rockefeller won his first term as governor in 1976.