President Barack Obama waves as he walks on stage with first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha at his election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. Obama defeated Republican challenger and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Well, it turns out that Nate Silver knows a bit more about making predictions than any of the television pundits: President Obama won re-election, giving him another four years in the White House — and creating a window where coalfield leaders and residents could try to come to grips with the reality of the challenges facing the mining industry.
Will that happen?
My first call this morning was to Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, who seems to be of two minds on this. On the one hand, Bill acknowledged that the industry’s fierce “war on coal” public relations campaign against President Obama and so many other politicians seemed not to have necessarily worked as they had hoped. Some changes might be in order, he said:
We’ll go through the components of it and see what parts of it can be adjusted. I suspect there’s going to be a lot of adjustment that goes on. Whatever is going to work we’re going to do that.
On the other hand, Bill also made it clear that he believes the ball is in the Obama administration’s court, and the officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should take the first step in trying to address the industry’s concerns about various regulatory initiatives:
We certainly welcome the opportunity to sit down and say, ‘how do we address this?’ Hopefully there will be a change in attitude in regulations from the administration. We simply have been victimized by them and targeted by them. There needs to be a change on the side of the administration and then there will be a change by the industry.
But let’s remember — without being too incredibly obvious — that President Obama won the election. Sure, he didn’t win West Virginia, not by a long shot, and Republican Mitt Romney won something like seven of what are generally the top dozen or so coal-producing states. In Kentucky, the Obama “war on coal” is generally credited with defeating incumbent Rep. Ben Chandler, a Democrat. And here in West Virginia, there’s no doubt that coal-mining issues played a role in large gains for Republicans in our Legislature, and perhaps for the victory of Republican Patrick Morrisey over longtime Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw. Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, told me via email this morning:
It is important to note that in Kentucky and West Virginia, the President performed very badly and, in the Congressman’s own words, cost Rep. Ben Chandler his reelection.
From the more than 61,000 Friends of Coal license plates on Kentucky vehicles to coal being a major campaign topic at both the state and national level, we are hopeful that the President’s “pro-coal” comments from the campaign reflect a new direction for his administration and not an attempt to shore up an electorate in states who continue to see him as anti-coal in both word and action.
But look around the country at other places where Republicans and the coal industry tried to play the Obama “war on coal” game: Outside of West Virginia, Democrats who were endorsed by the United Mine Workers, but painted as not pro-coal and anti-Obama enough by their opponents won six crucial U.S. Senate races in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Montana, New Mexico and Indiana. Or consider that in southeastern Ohio, while the major coal counties all backed Romney, turnout in those counties dropped by 7 percent over 2008, meaning there simply weren’t enough votes there to help Romney overcome the Obama advantage in other parts of the state.
W.Va. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin raises his hand in the air to signify the next four years of his term after being re-elected on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Randy Snyder)
The National Mining Association had this to say about President Obama’s victory:
The National Mining Association (NMA) extends its congratulations to President Obama upon his reelection. NMA remains committed to working with the administration and the Congress on an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy that includes coal, our most abundant energy resource, and on policies that support a dependable supply of domestic minerals production to meet the nation’s needs.
But others in the coal industry weren’t as conciliatory. The election’s result brought the first “tweet” in more than two years from former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship:
Mr Obama: “Saving your government” isn’t the same as “saving our country.”
Here in West Virginia, Sen. Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin both faced similar charges that they were part of the Obama “war on coal.” Both won re-election easily, but that doesn’t seem to have them any more eager than they were before to take bold steps to deal with the negative impacts of coal on the environment, coal miners, and coalfield residents — let alone tackle coal’s greenhouse emissions or really start planning for the ongoing decline of coal production in Southern West Virginia.
Take Sen. Manchin for instance. In celebrating his victory last night, he began calling for a presidential “healing tour” of all 50 states, as Pam Kasey reported in the State Journal:
Manchin re-affirmed his commitment to work with his fellow lawmakers of both parties.
“Everywhere I go on the campaign trail, people are begging us to stop the political divisiveness and bickering that are hurting our country,” he said.
“We’ve all heard the same thing: ‘Why can’t you all work together?'” he said. “The time has come to put our country first, to put an end to the political games, to seize this opportunity and to rebuild America.”
He suggested that the next president — now known to be Obama — should go on a “presidential healing tour,” looking at the potential in each state, and invited him to start in West Virginia.
Keep in mind that this talk of healing our political wounds comes from the guy whose political advertisements featured the symbolic use of a gun to defeat a piece of legislation he didn’t like. And then there’s Gov. Tomblin, who used his appearance this morning on the MetroNews Talkline show with Hoppy Kercheval to continue to deny that hard times for the coal industry are ahead, regardless of what EPA does:
Obviously, the loss of coal jobs is a huge concern. Hopefully, the coal market will rebound sometime here in the near future.
Maybe coalfield leaders will think this through more carefully after they’ve come down from the election rush. The United Mine Workers, for example, was pretty short and sweet in their official statement today from union President Cecil Roberts:
I congratulate President Obama and Vice President Biden on their hard-fought victory yesterday. In the end, they laid out a vision for America’s future that the majority of our fellow citizens believe is the right path for our nation.
Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, had some ideas for what needs to happen now, and included them in this piece written for Grist:
As coal is eclipsed by other forms of energy, people in coal country are justifiably concerned about their livelihoods and their future. Perhaps the results of this election will finally push some of our leaders to start talking honestly about the challenges we face and the need to diversify coal state economies— in short, to provide some leadership. Our region’s decision-makers would be doing a far greater service to their constituents by using their political clout to bring federal resources that will help Appalachia and other mining regions make a transition, rather than digging in their heels and refusing to acknowledge that the world is changing.
In Appalachia and beyond, one thing is certain — President Obama’s re-election means that for four more years, the marketplace and the American people will continue to move away from coal, and the coal barons won’t have a crony in the White House to try and stop that inevitable shift.