Coal Tattoo

Where does Obama stand on mountaintop removal?


We may find out a little bit on Monday about what President Barack Obama plans to do about mountaintop removal coal mining.

But what do we already know about his position on the issue?

Let’s review:

Obama has publicly criticized strip mining. His campaign aides said last year he did not support mountaintop removal. But, neither Obama nor anyone speaking for him — as far as I can tell, anyway — ever promised that he would ban the practice. And, Obama has also said coal is — and will remain for some time — an important part of the nation’s energy mix.

Probably the most public — and most quoted — statement from Obama on the issue came during an August 2007 campaign visit to Lexington, Ky. As reported by the Lexington Herald-Leader, here’s what happened during an Obama speech:

He said the country also needs a forward-thinking energy policy, and he alluded to his disapproval of the coal mining process of mountaintop removal.

“We’re tearing up the Appalachian Mountains because of our dependence on fossil fuels,” he said, sparking loud applause.

Earlier in 2007, the group AppalachianVoices said it had asked Obama about mountaintop removal and he said:

Strip-mining is an environmental disaster. We have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal, than simply blowing the tops off mountains.

In the fall of 2008, during the general election campaign, the issue came up again, and I wrote a couple of stories about it.  Those stories are here and here.

During a campaign appearance in Florida, Republican John McCain said he opposed mountaintop removal. So,  I asked the Obama campaign for their position, and this is what spokesman Dan Leistikow said:

Senator Obama comes from a coal state and understands its importance to our economy. While he has serious concerns about mountaintop removal mining, he has proposed a major federal investment in clean coal technologies as part of his plan to build a new economy – saving and creating jobs in West Virginia and around the country while addressing the global climate crisis.

And, of course, Obama’s repeated references to “clean coal” — and the flier below, which was distributed in Kentucky — got him criticized by some pundits (here, here and here) for pandering to coalfield voters.


During the campaign, the UMWA’s political arm also distributed this video of Obama talking about “clean coal” and union President Cecil Roberts and UMW members supporting Obama:

And more recently, Obama won praise from coal industry PR folks  when he included “clean coal” in a list of new energy technologies he wants to spend more federal money developing.

So, what’s President Obama going to do about mountaintop removal?