Coal Tattoo

West Virginia Congress

The political landscape around Wets Virginia’s coal industry gets more silly by the day. We noted this week that U.S. Senate candidate Natalie Tennant just can’t bring herself to get outside of the anti-Obama box that Republicans have pushed Democrats into, and about how the state’s Democratic leaders can’t seem to get their story straight about the Koch brothers.

But one of the continuing underlying false narratives that is driving this year’s elections is the completely ridiculous argument that some Republican activists continue to make that longtime Rep. Nick J. Rahall is somehow against the coal industry. We’ve written about this before  as well, and we’ve noted that none other than the top Friend of Coal among West Virginia broadcast personalities, Hoppy Kercheval, has himself ruled that Rep. Rahall is, in fact, not an anti-coal politician.

Still the narrative gets pushed forward … and of course, Rep. Rahall falls right for this Republican trap, trying to out-flank them on the pro-industry side, something that Democrats just can’t seem to figure out they can’t possibly do.

There’s an interesting piece in the new “Upshot” feature from the New York Times headlined, “A West Virginia Democrat Battles Extinction,” in which the great Derek Willis reports that Rep. Rahall is siding with Republicans more often than ever:

One in every four votes in the current Congress. West Virginia’s congressional representatives tend to vote in opposition to President Obama’s policies, often citing environmental regulation of the state’s coal industry as a main reason. But Mr. Rahall has voted with his two in-state Republican colleagues about half the time in the past year. A spokeswoman for Mr. Rahall did not return a phone call or an email seeking comment on the votes.


Of course, every few elections some Republican strategist pushes the notion that Rep. Rahall is in the toughest race of his career. Somehow he keeps pulling through, most recently when the late Spike Maynard switched to the Republican party to run the coal industry’s race against the longtime Democratic incumbent. In that election, Rahall had the advantage of being able to point out Maynard’s ties to Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship (not for nothing, but we still don’t know what Maynard and Blankenship emailed each other about, thanks to that absurd state Supreme Court ruling).

The disappointing thing is that Rep. Rahall knows full well the damage that mountaintop removal coal-mining is doing to the environment and to public health in his district. When he was still a committee chairman, Rep. Rahall held hearings on the matter, but never got around to doing anything about it. And after so many years in Washington, he still can’t figure out what government agency should be trying to address those problems.

Perhaps even more importantly, Rep. Rahall also knows that coal is on the decline in his district, and that there’s little that his helping with the Republican attacks on EPA can do to stop that. And instead of reminding his constituents of this at every opportunity, and joining in an all-out effort to diversify the region’s economy, Rep. Rahall continues to give his people the false hope that, if only EPA can be stopped, another coal boom is just around the corner.