Coal Tattoo

Coal and the party platforms

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First Lady Michelle Obama waves after speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

My previous post, “Is climate change just a joke to the GOP?” generated a little bit of discussion about party platforms. So now that the Democratic National Convention is in full swing,  I thought we should take at least a quick look at what the Democratic and Republican platforms have to say about the coal industry and its future.

Reading party platforms might not be the most exciting thing to do. But the platforms are a chance for both parties to carefully craft what they believe in — so they  make important reading for anyone who wants to actually be an educated voter. The New York Times did one brief look comparing the two platforms and had this tidbit of interest to Coal Tattoo readers:

While the Democrats failed to enact the promised climate change legislation, they still call it a top priority. “We know that global climate change is one of the biggest threats of this generation — an economic, environmental and national security catastrophe in the making,” their platform says, adding that they “affirm the science of climate change.”

This year’s Republican platform dropped the 2008 section on “addressing climate change responsibly.” The new platform states that it opposes “any and all cap-and-trade legislation.”

Perhaps also of interest, given concerns about safety and health of workers at non-union coal mines — not to mention the threats to United Mine Workers of America retiree and pension plans — is this, also reported by the Times:

The Democratic platform says “the right to organize and collectively bargain is a fundamental American value” and opposes “the attacks on collective bargaining that Republican governors and state legislatures are mounting in states around the country.” The Republicans support right-to-work laws, which weaken unions, and salute “the Republican governors and state legislators who have saved their states from fiscal disaster by reforming their laws governing public employee unions.”

But let’s take a closer look …

First, the Democratic platform (read it here), includes one mention of coal, and not surprisingly, they made sure it had the word “clean” in front of it:

We can move towards a sustainable energy-independent future if we harness all of America’s great natural resources. That means an all-of-the-above approach to developing America’s many energy resources, including wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal, hydropower, nuclear, oil, clean coal, and natural gas. President Obama has encouraged innovation to reach his goal of generating 80 percent of our electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

In this Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney addresses delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.  (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Not surprisingly, the Democratic platform emphasizes a push toward natural gas drilling:

Harnessing our natural gas resources needs to be done in a safe and responsible manner, which is why the Obama administration has proposed a number of safeguards to protect against water contamination and air pollution. We will continue to advocate for the use of this clean fossil fuel, while ensuring that public and environmental health and workers’ safety are protected.

It’s worth noting that this “all-of-the-above” energy plank is quite a change from the 2008 Democratic platform language, which pledged to free our nation from the “tyranny of oil” and to “clean up our coal plants.”  Regarding coal, the 2012 platform certainly isn’t going to win any converts among industry supporters in the coalfields, but it also a far cry from a call to end mountaintop removal, which is what some citizen groups are advocating in Charlotte.

As for the Republican platform (read it here), well, it almost sounds like it was written by the folks who run the Friends of Coal PR campaign:

Coal is a low-cost and abundant energy source with hundreds of years of supply. We look toward the private sector’s development of new, state-of-the-art coal-fired plants that will be low-cost, environmentally responsible, and efficient. We also encourage research and development of advanced technologies in this sector, including coal-to-liquid, coal gasification, and related technologies for enhanced oil recovery.

The current Administration—with a President who publicly threatened to bankrupt anyone who builds a coal-powered plant—seems determined to shut down coal production in the United States, even though there is no cost-effective substitute for it or for the hundreds of thousands of jobs that go with it as the nation’s largest source of electricity generation.

We will end the EPA’s war on coal and encourage the increased safe development in all regions of the nation’s coal resources, the jobs it produces, and
the affordable, reliable energy that it provides for America. Further, we oppose any and all cap and trade legislation.

Of course, we know that war is war, and that a public policy debate isn’t war, no matter what the industry and the GOP say. And we know that the Republicans and the industry continually twist then-candidate Obama’s remarks about bankruptcy coal-fired power plant promoters. And we know that coal jobs are higher now than they were when the current administration began, and that a variety of factors — not just EPA rules — are behind the string of layoffs so far this year.

The reality is that neither party platform really speaks the challenges that confront West Virginia’s coalfield communities: Increased competition from natural gas and other coal regions, a declining base of economically extractable reserves, serious water quality and human health issues linked to large-scale surface mining, the deadly toll of black lung disease.

On the Republican side, West Virginia GOP leaders — such as Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley, and candidates Bill Maloney and John Raese — are pretty firmly on board with their party’s agenda related to coal that it’s as if they didn’t even acknowledge these challenges exist. On the Democratic side, most of West Virginia’s leaders — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall — are also so firmly on board with that same Republican platform that they didn’t even want to travel to Charlotte to try to talk with fellow Democrats about how the national party might do more to help our state with these challenges.

Only Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., appears to be willing to tell West Virginians what we don’t want to hear:

Instead of finger pointing, we should commit ourselves to a smart action plan that will help with job transition opportunities, sparking new manufacturing and exploring the next generation of technology.

None of this is impossible. Solving big challenges with American ingenuity is what we do. West Virginia knows energy and West Virginia doesn’t shrink from challenge. We have the chance here to not just grudgingly accept the future – but to boldly embrace it.