Coal Tattoo

Coal and Capito: What will Senate run mean?

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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.