The presidential race’s ‘coal conundrum’

August 15, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign event at the American Energy Corporation,  Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, in Beallsville, Ohio.  (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

As discussed here the other day, the discussions of the coal industry in this year’s elections have been pretty silly — and they remained so yesterday, with comments like these from Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel during Governor Mitt Romney’s appearance at a coal mine in Ohio:

“These people who are out of touch with Ohio – Barack Obama and Sherrod Brown — have waged a war on coal. They think coal is a four-letter word,” Mr. Mandel said. “I’ll tell you this afternoon, for any of these folks trying to stand between us and affordable, reliable, dependable energy, we have four words for them: over our dead bodies.

First of all, aren’t there four letters in coal? And second, what exactly does he mean by “over our dead bodies”? Well, a spokesman had an unfortunate stumble trying to explain that one:

“It does not suggest violence,” he said. “It suggests that no one will fight harder for Josh Mandel — for Ohio coal miners than Josh Mandel. It’s an expression.”

Greenwire, meanwhile, had a rundown of recent campaign contributions by coal producers, while Politico had a really interesting piece headlined Barack Obama, Mitt Romney stuck in coal conundrum, which explained:

Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama both face an inconvenient truth in the battle for coal country’s votes: Pollution from coal-burning power plants makes people sick and even contributes to early deaths.

But both White House contenders are trying to distance themselves from pesky, years-old YouTube videos in which they — or, in Obama’s case, his vice president — expressed that simple fact.

Instead, each is trying to portray himself as a champion of coal, and wielding the recordings as weapons in coal-reliant battleground states like Ohio.
Not surprisingly, neither campaign wants to really face up to their earlier truth-telling when doing so might make some small segment of voters mad at them:

… While both campaigns were happy to dole out pre-fabricated statements, neither one would tell POLITICO whether their candidate stands behind the past statements about the dangers of coal.

The Obama campaign did not respond to a question about whether the president believes coal plants kill people. The Romney campaign provided only a broad statement when asked if the GOP candidate stands by his 2003 remarks.

Faced with the clear science about power plant pollution, global warming, water quality damage, black lung disease, and the mounting science about public health concerns related to mountaintop removal, the obvious question for politicians — especially those who want to be president — is exactly what are you going to do about these challenges? Important follow-up questions are things like: What is your plan for ensuring a clean, safe and sustainable energy system for our country? How will you diversify the economy and otherwise improve the lives of the people of our nation’s coalfields, especially at a time when the mining industry is in the midst of a major downturn?

As wind turbines turn in the distance, President Barack Obama talks with Jeff Heil on the Heil family farm, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, in Haverhill, Iowa, during a three day campaign bus tour through Iowa.  (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Over at the State Journal, Taylor Kuykendall did a pretty decent job of giving an overview of the two campaigns’ statements to date regarding the coal industry. Though as with so much of the coverage of these matters in West Virginia media outlets, the piece could have done a better job of presenting the pollution, workplace safety, and other problems associated with coal as real problems that actually in fact exist — as opposed to being just something two sides of a political race may or may not disagree about. Look back again at the Politico story I mentioned and how it starts out:

Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama both face an inconvenient truth in the battle for coal country’s votes: Pollution from coal-burning power plants makes people sick and even contributes to early deaths.

Take a quick look at the prepared statements the two campaigns gave Politico. First, Gov. Romney’s campaign:

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul countered: “In Ohio and around the nation, the president’s energy policies have resulted in fewer jobs and higher costs at home. As president, Mitt Romney will reverse President Obama’s disastrous energy policies and get to work creating more jobs and more take-home pay for middle-class Americans.”

OK, not for nothing, but U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data show that the number of coal jobs in Ohio actually increased by nearly 600 since President Obama took office — from 6,229 in the first quarter of 2009 to 6,819 during the second quarter of 2012 (the most recent available).
The Obama campaign doesn’t really do much better:

“Only one candidate in this race actually has a record of finding a clean future for coal, and that’s President Obama,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement. She added: “This stands in stark contrast to Mitt Romney, who, as governor of Massachusetts, spoke out against coal jobs and said that a coal-fired plant ‘kills people.’ This is just another issue where Mitt Romney is not being honest with the American people.”

As already mentioned, Gov. Romney was being honest when he said coal-fired power plants kill people.

So again, why don’t the campaigns answer questions like these:

Exactly what are you going to do about the challenges facing the nation’s coal industry, like deadly air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and black lung disease? What is your plan for ensuring a clean, safe and sustainable energy system for our country? How will you diversify the economy and otherwise improve the lives of the people of our nation’s coalfields, especially at a time when the mining industry is in the midst of a major downturn?

3 Responses to “The presidential race’s ‘coal conundrum’”

  1. Jim Sconyers says:

    In both Ohio and West Virginia, industry and pols tell the glaring falsity that the Obama administration has caused declining employment in coal mining. The statistics are clear that more folks are mining coal in both states today than when Obama came into office. These are known as facts.

  2. David Scott says:

    Both parties are trying to have it both ways, playing to the highest level of intensity every even numbered year. They won’t tell the truth on the matter, because when do they ever do that? It is useless of them to play the games. Us liberals, conservatives, tree huggers, coal huggers… we all see through it. Joe Manchin can call himself a ‘friend of coal’ until he is blue in the face, Raese is still going to win in Logan County. Romney implemented a government healthcare system just like Obama, but no liberal will vote for him.

    The problem with playing reactionary politics is that they end up alligning themselves with the fears of the groups with highest levels of voter intensity; which is in this case the coal huggers. As you said, there is overwhelming scientific proof that both mining and buring coal are dangerous. Skeptics of global warming are being converted one by one to the truth about our climate, just as they did about heliocentricity centuries ago. Most Americans are aware that global warming is not a hoax, but they don’t want rate hikes and they haven’t seen the red well water and acid mine drainage pouring out of the coal fields. They haven’t had to deal with the long term care associated with black lung, birth defects, and other collateral damage caused by the mining industry. They do know that it is getting hotter, but they just crank the AC and watch the Kardashians.

    By playing into the hand of the rabid coal supporters of southern WV, both candidates are turning their backs on the world in which our grandchildren are supposed to prosper in favor of a region that most Americans cannot place on a map… (somewhere around Richmond, right?) Fortunately for the miners of WV, their neighbors in Ohio are residents of a swing state and elections are always more important than people. Political power is renewable.

  3. Derek Mullins says:

    And the level of silliness somehow manages to get even sillier.

    On Mandel:
    “The Republican nominee for an Ohio U.S. Senate seat started speaking in a southern accent Tuesday while defending the coal industry during a rally with Mitt Romney.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/15/josh-mandel-ohio-senate-accent_n_1785200.html?utm_hp_ref=politics

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