Coal Tattoo

Obama tries to paint Romney as anti-coal candidate

OK … so President Obama’s re-election campaign has decided its strategy for dealing with coal industry issues will be to paint itself as being more pro-coal than Republican Mitt Romney. No. Really. Here’s yesterday’s piece from Politico:

A new radio ad in Ohio from President Obama’s campaign hits Mitt Romney on some comments from 2003 where Romney said that coal “kills people.”

“When he ran for President, Barack Obama pledged to support clean coal and invest in new technologies,” the ad says.

“And Mitt Romney? He’s attacking the president’s record on coal,” the narrator says. “Here’s what Romney said in 2003 at a press conference in front of a coal plant: ‘I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people. And that plant, that plant kills people.'”

The clip of Romney bashing coal comes from a 2003 press conference he held as Massachusetts governor, where the state announced a crackdown on a coal plant in Salem. Romney was booed by plant workers, but stuck by the state’s policies on the plant.

Here’s the video clip in question:

As The Hill reported, the Romney campaign hit back:

“President Obama’s policies have devastated the coal industry and we are seeing the results firsthand. Just last week, the President’s burdensome regulations resulted in the loss of even more coal jobs in Ohio and have jeopardized thousands of jobs throughout the coal industry,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement.

“As president, Mitt Romney will promote an all-of-the-above energy policy that harnesses America’s energy resources and helps create jobs in Ohio and around the nation,” she said.

There’s a little bit more background about Governor Romney’s statements from 2003 here and here, and the issue is explained in a little more detail, in the context of the presidential race, in this Wall Street Journal piece, published nearly a year ago, before he became the likely nominee:

Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, whose health-care record as governor of Massachusetts has left him struggling to win the support of conservative voters, now faces another point of vulnerability: his environmental record.

Just days after his 2002 election, Mr. Romney hired Douglas Foy, one of the state’s most prominent environmental activists, and put him in charge of supervising four state agencies.

Mr. Foy had initiated a lawsuit that led to the cleanup of Boston Harbor and had worked to protect fishing grounds and seashores. Once in the Romney administration, he served as the governor’s negotiator on a regional climate-change initiative and helped draft regulations to put emissions caps in place for coal-fired power plants.

With Mr. Foy by his side, Mr. Romney joined activists outside an aging, coal-fired plant in 2003 to show his commitment to the emissions caps. “I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant, that plant kills people,” he said.

Mr. Romney, while implementing the emissions caps, ultimately backed away from the regional climate-change agreement in 2005, a decision announced on the same day he said he would not seek re-election as governor, stoking speculation that he would run for president.

And:

Romney campaign aides said his efforts involving coal-fired plants were merely the tail end of a process launched by his predecessor, Republican Gov. Jane Swift, who in 2001 ordered the plants to reduce their emissions of pollutants and carbon dioxide.

Mr. Foy said the governor was not personally involved in drafting the emissions caps placed on the plants, but “he was certainly well aware” of the regulations.

On Dec. 7, 2005, the Romney administration unveiled the final orders. “These carbon emission limits will provide real and immediate progress in the battle to improve our environment,” then-Gov. Romney said in a press release touting Massachusetts as “the first and only state to set CO2 emissions limits on power plants.”

Mr. Foy said that as he was negotiating a cap-and-trade regime with other states, Mr. Romney made it clear he believed in human-caused global warming and wanted a policy response. At the time, many conservatives were open to a cap-and-trade system, seeing it as a market-driven solution to limiting emissions.

Still, Mr. Foy said, the governor peppered him with questions about the economic impacts of a carbon-trading system. At his urging, negotiators built business-oriented provisions into the agreement, such as triggers to cut off trading if the price of energy rose to certain levels.

But after instructing Mr. Foy to press forward to negotiate an agreement, Mr. Romney ultimately backed out, saying the deal lacked a “safety valve” to cap plant payments if they exceeded emission limits.

Now, this sort of stuff is exactly what’s wrong with political campaigns. Some consultant went back and found this video clip, pulled a couple lines out of it, and now it’s a talking point for the Obama campaign to use against Governor Romney. There’s no context, and it’s considered irrelevant to consider whether those couple of lines really represent overall policy positions from the candidates.

The United Steelworkers took this route in trying to defend President Obama. Instead of pulling a couple lines of their opponent’s quotes, why don’t they instead simply take their case to the public about why certain impacts of the coal industry need to be reduced?

It’s kind of like when Republicans dig up the line about then-candidate Obama saying he would bankrupt the coal industry (not really what he said), and it serves the voting public about as much as Republicans John Raese and Bill Maloney trying to make out like Sen. Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin are against the coal industry.

Perhaps a better example of the sorts of discussions that are needed came yesterday from Morgantown, where West Virginia University hosted a forum on energy policy in which most participants agreed, oddly enough, that the nation needs one:

America needs a national energy policy that specifically includes the use of fossil fuels and creates a stable regulatory environment that encourages growth and job creation, executives in the coal, natural gas and electricity industries said Monday.

 Of course, the discussion would more be more helpful if everyone would also face the notion that — as most experts agree — we also need an energy policy that promotes a stable global climate. But the State Journal coverage, by Pam Kasey, did include this interesting comment, which kind of cuts against the idea of “energy independence” that some political leaders keep promoting (and maybe the anti-mountaintop removal rhetoric about coal exports as well):

With regard to demand vs. supply and concerns about exporting, FirstEnergy CEO Tony Alexander said all that is needed is to focus on improving supply.

“If we focus our attention for natural gas, electricity and coal on supply, then you don’t have to worry about issues about where that supply is going because the supply will follow, demand being created naturally because it’s a cheaper source,” he said. “That’s if we apply the principles globally and not try to do it either regionally or try to create a bubble around the U.S. — as if that’s really going to work.”

I didn’t make it up to Morgantown for the forum. But from what I saw of the coverage, the speakers also wrongly pigeonholed the discussion into a debate over whether to immediately end all use of fossil fuels.

Maybe a few people are arguing for that, or maybe some protest signs suggest it. But that’s not what most people on the “anti-coal side” so to speak, are advocating.

The Sierra Club, for example, has suggested that a move away from mountaintop removal would provide some additional underground mining jobs as the nation transitions over the long-term to cleaner energy sources. Dr. James Hansen has proposed a moratorium only on new coal-fired power plants, until carbon capture technology is available. The Union of Concerned Scientists has also advocated a set of balanced and reasonable proposals that recognize coal isn’t going away anytime soon.