Coal and Capito: What will Senate run mean?

November 26, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

Even before Rep. Shelley Moore Capito had formally announced this morning that she will run in 2014 for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, some of the more vocal factions in the coal industry were launching their own campaign to support Rep. Capito.

Check out the new “Coal Miners for Capito” page on Facebook and you’ll see this message from Roger Horton, the founder of Citizens for Coal and apparently chairman of the Coal Miners for Capito group:

We urge all coal miners to support Shelley Capito in her run for the U.S. Senate. As many of you know, I am a lifelong coal miner, a member of the UMWA, a proud Democrat and a resident of Logan County. I have worked hard to protect West Virginia’s coal mining jobs and I can say without hesitation that Shelley has always been there for us — through thick and thin. She has stood with us, marched with us, led us as we tried to take our message to the White House and U.S. Senate. She has been a friend to coal miners and their families throughout her time in Congress.

While we thank Sen. Rockefeller for his service over his long career, we believe he has lost his way and no longer reflects the views of the people of this state. His recent statements on coal and coal mining show his loyalty is to Obama and not with West Virginia coal miners. He seems unable to comprehend that our industry is under attack by the an out-of-control EPA, choosing instead to side with the agency and Obama and costing West Virginia jobs.

Over the past four years we have worked with Shelley in the House of Representatives to pass a group of bills that would have stopped the EPA dead and ended the war on coal before it even started.

Each and every one of those bills remains stuck in the Senate. Rockefeller and his boss Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won’t even allow a vote on these bills on the floor of the Senate, much less allow them to move on to the president for his signature or likely veto — effectively shielding the president from being forced to act and go on the record at the cost of tens of thousands of West Virginia coal mining and mine-related jobs.

We simply can’t afford a fence sitter when it comes to our most basic industry and the very foundation of our state’s economy. The time as come for a change — a REAL change — and Shelley is that change.

That is why I support Shelley Capito for Senate and I hope and urge the entire family of coal to do so as well.

For those who don’t know, Roger Horton is a local United Mine Workers official in Logan County who has been fighting federal regulation of mountaintop removal since hundreds of members of his local lost their jobs when the Arch Coal Dal-Tex mine closed when the company couldn’t come up with a permit application that would pass muster in federal court.

Now, it’s pretty clear where Rep. Capito stands on the issues facing West Virginia’s coal industry and coalfield residents. She’s firmly in the camp that argues the Obama administration is out to destroy the industry, and opposes any efforts by federal agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address coal’s  negative impacts. She’s also played very fast and loose with science and facts in her efforts to pretend that global warming isn’t happening and nothing needs to be done about it (see here and here).

UPDATED: And Rep. Capito’s statement announcing her Senate run got to coal issues in the third sentence:

We are a state rich in natural resources with our coal reserves, natural gas and even oil. They have played a major role in the course of our state and driven our economy.

She also said:

Over the next two years, I have no higher priority than to continue standing up for the 2nd district and our state as we tackle the immediate fiscal crisis in the next few months and continue to stand up against the EPAs dangerous and unconstitutional crusade to dictate our nations energy policy to the detriment of West Virginians.

 

We don’t know for sure that Sen. Rockefeller is going to seek another term.   But if he does, it’s clear that at least some of Rep. Capito’s supporters are going to try to make this another election that is about the false narrative of an Obama EPA “war on coal,” rather than about the more substantive and long-term problems facing coalfield communities in West Virginia (see here, here and here). And it seems likely that a herd of GOP activists and political commentators will try to make this an election about West Virginia’s dislike for President Obama, rather than about the differing views on the issues of Sen. Rockefeller and Rep. Capito.

To his credit, Sen. Rockefeller earlier this year began trying to tell West Virginians what many of us just don’t want to hear about coal, the challenges facing coalfield communities, and the future of this industry. In a remarkable Senate floor speech in June, Sen. Rockefeller warned:

Carefully orchestrated messages that strike fear in the hearts of West Virginians and feed uncertainty about coal’s future are the subject of paid television ads, billboards, break room bulletin boards, public meetings, letters and lobbying campaigns.

A daily onslaught declares that coal is under siege from harmful outside forces, and that the future of the state is bleak unless we somehow turn back the clock, ignore the present and block the future.

West Virginians understandably worry that a way of life and the dignity of a job is at stake. Change and uncertainty in the coal industry is unsettling. But my fear is that concerns are also being fueled by the narrow view of others with divergent motivations – one that denies the inevitability of change in the energy industry, and unfairly leaves coal miners in the dust.

The reality is that many who run the coal industry today would rather attack false enemies and deny real problems than find solutions … Scare tactics are a cynical waste of time, money and worst of all coal miners’ hopes. But sadly, these coal operators have closed themselves off from any other opposing voices and few dared to speak out for change – even though it’s been staring them in the face for years.

Undoubtedly, the career campaign consultants will try to use these words against Sen. Rockefeller if he ends up seeking another term. He’ll face blistering attacks for daring to tell the truth.  Sen. Rockefeller has been here before, many years ago, when the industry defeated his first bid for governor after his call for the abolition of strip mining, leading him to rethink his position on that matter.

What’s gotten lost — and is purposely ignored by folks like Roger Horton — is that Sen. Rockefeller’s coal speech this year wasn’t an attack on coal miners, or a call to end mountaintop removal or to phase out the burning of coal for power. As I wrote at the time of the speech:

Any reasonable person who reads or watches the speech understands that Sen. Rockefeller isn’t calling for the end of coal. He’s saying he wants coal to have a future, and that he wants huge public investments to ensure that future:

Coal has played an important part in our past and can play an important role in our future but it will only happen if we face reality.

Let me be clear. I’m frustrated with some of the top levels of the coal industry, but I’m not giving up hope for a strong clean coal future. To get there, we’ll need a bold partner, innovation and major public and private investments.

In the meantime, we shouldn’t forget that coal fired power plants provide good jobs for thousands of West Virginians. It remains the underpinning for many small communities and I will always be focused foremost on their future.

So any effort to portray Sen. Rockefeller as an anti-coal politician is just false. If anything, Sen. Rockefeller has bent over backwards to defend the industry and to insist it be given a chance at a cleaner future. He’s certainly not used his leadership role to take up, for example, the issue of the growing science that shows that his constituents who live near mountaintop removal mines face greater health risks than those who don’t.

If Sen. Rockefeller runs again, the real test in such a campaign will be for him to decide if he will continue to push for a more reasonable path forward, whether he will use his re-election effort to push West Virginians to “boldly embrace” the future, or whether he will run from those comments, in fear of the inevitable “war on coal” ads that will be run against him. A Rockefeller-Capito campaign could be dominated by a race to pledge allegiance to coal of the sort that we saw in this year’s race for governor and Senate. Or, it could be about facts and science and sound public policy. As Sen. Rockefeller said earlier this year on the floor of the Senate:

It’s not too late for the coal industry to step up and lead by embracing the realities of today and creating a sustainable future. Discard the scare tactics. Stop denying science. Listen to what markets are saying about greenhouse gases and other environmental concerns, to what West Virginians are saying about their water and air, their health, and the cost of caring for seniors and children who are most susceptible to pollution.

Stop and listen to West Virginians – miners and families included – who see that the bitterness of the fight has taken on more importance than any potential solutions. Those same miners care deeply about their children’s health and the streams and mountains of West Virginia. They know we can’t keep to the same path.

6 Responses to “Coal and Capito: What will Senate run mean?”

  1. Phil Smith says:

    Ken: I want to make it clear that Roger Horton in no way speaks for the UMWA or its members. He does not represent the UMWA International union nor District 17. His views are his own. He is a safety committeeman at his mine, meaning that the only authority he has to speak for the union is about safety issues at his mine. That is an important role, but does not make him a spokesperson for the union.

    The UMWA in no way agrees with Mr. Horton’s remarks regarding Sen. Rockefeller and his dedication to coal miners. It is primarily due to Sen. Rockefeller’s efforts in passing and defending the Coal Act that tens of thousands of Mr. Horton’s retired UMWA brothers and sisters have health care benefits — including those who worked at Patriot Coal, where Mr. Horton works today.

    If Patriot has its way in its current bankruptcy filing, those benefits will be at great risk, as will Mr. Horton’s when he retires. Sen. Rockefeller is among the coalfield politicians who have signed a letter in support of maintaining those benefits and has raised serious concerns with Patriot regarding maintaining them. Rep. Capito has not. http://www.fairnessatpatriot.org/take-action/political-supporter/

    This is an issue which affects thousands of active and retired miners right now. What UMWA members — especially those who work at a Patriot facility — need to be doing is sticking together in unity and solidarity, figuring out ways to use all the resources we have to win this fight to preserve our contracts and retiree benefits. We also need to be fighting to bring the parties responsible for the Patriot bankruptcy, Peabody and Arch, to account. Focusing energy and efforts elsewhere serves the operators’ interests, not the miners.

    And we especially need to recognize and respect all our allies in that effort. Sen. Rockefeller has made it clear that he is one. We have yet to hear whether Rep. Capito is or is not.

  2. Phil Smith says:

    Ken, a clarification — retired miners from Patriot currently are not covered by the Coal Act, which is for those miners whose companies have gone out of business. But if Patriot is successful in getting the bankruptcy court to allow it to renege on its promises of retiree health care, including the promises of health care it inherited from Peabody and Arch, then the Coal Act would be the place of first resort for the benefits of those Patriot retirees who retired as of October 1994.

  3. concerned miner says:

    Ken

    Seems a bit odd to me that you could dig up an 8 year old picture of Rep. Capito speaking in front of a Bush-Cheney sign, yet not have a picture of Sen. Rockefeller with an Obama backdrop.

  4. Bo Webb says:

    The comment from concerned miner here is a prime example of why we cannot have an honest conversation about West Virginia and our future. A person truly concerned should at least be open minded enough to consider the fact that coal’s future in WV is limited, not because of our President, but because of Market. I suppose if you dislike someone enough you can blame coals demise on them rather than take responsibility and address this issue with a common sense approach.

  5. concerned miner says:

    Bo

    Oddly enough, I agree with you regarding the fact that coals future is very limited, it is a finite resource. I will also agree that the current downturn is mostly market driven, but the current administration is currently, and will continue to make it very difficult for the US coal industry to react when the global coal market recovers. My point is that it is popular to believe that the 8 years of Bush-Cheney were generally a failure. It is a personal belief of mine that at the end of Obama’s 8 years his administration will be looked upon by many as a failure, and democrats will quickly distance themselves from that legacy, as the republicans did to Bush.

    With all that said, my comment was why Ken had to dig up an 8 year old photograph of Capito, I’m sure there were more recent pictures that did not have the Bush-Cheney back drop. I liken Ken’s choice of that picture to the political ads showing Manchin or Rahall speaking on a platform with Obama signs, they are democrats, what do you expect, she is a republican, what do you expect?

  6. Bo Webb says:

    CM: I have no idea why Ward chose that pic. I understand where you are coming from with your comment, but let’s forget about the pic, forget about the comment, neither address the problem. I don’t know what Obama will look like at the end of his presidency, but I seriously doubt that coal will ever recover to where it is now, let alone 5 years ago. Many coal fired power plants have been either retired or modified to burn nat gas. More and more world leaders plus the UN are acknowledging that we must act quickly to stabilize global warming and climate change. I don’t think coal will ever be a part of the climate change solution, the vast consensus is that we need to burn less coal, not more. As West Virginians who have historically relied on coal as our economic engine we must recognize the reality we face. If we truly want a bright future for our generation and our children’s future we have to stop the “do nothing but argue” approach. We actually need to take action. First we must accept the fact that the coal industry is what it is, an industry driven by profit. Nothing wrong with that, that is capitalism. But, we the people of WV have not only a right, but an obligation to address, define, and determine the future of our state. We can’t depend on Tomblin or Manchin to lead the way, they are nothing more than sales staff of the coal industry. Change always begins with the People’s desire for change. If we are content to sit back and allow the coal industry to determine our future we are going to regret it. A good first step to address this issue is to end mountaintop removal. That action will create more underground jobs while at the same time protect our health. Let’s use the met coal we have to fire up our closed steel mills which will create more jobs. Let’s manufacture wind mill turbines here instead of shipping our met coal to China for their steel mills and factories to produce wind turbines to export back to us. Let’s put in place a program that dictates a certain percentage of WV electricity be renewable and come from within our state, and allow tax incentives for manufacturers of wind mills and solar panels to build plants in WV, creating more jobs. Let’s provide low interest loans to home owners to install solar panels on the roofs of their homes, guaranteeing business for solar companies and installers; more jobs. Create this win, win, win economy out of the underground met coal we still have and we create a situation whereas the coal industry can remain for decades as we build this new and needed economy.

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