Coal Tattoo


Gazette photo by Chip Ellis

It’s not surprising to see the drumbeat from most West Virginia media outlets (see here, here and here) in opposition to the Obama administration’s fairly modest effort to fight climate change.  After all, the media apparently thinks its job is simply to repeat what our elected officials tell us, regardless of whether it makes any sense or has any basis in fact.

One of my absolute favorites is how public officials and media personalities here parrot the notion that it’s somehow wrong for President Obama to direct an agency of the executive branch of government to promulgate a rule under authority given to that agency by the Congress (see here and here). The coal industry and its friends seem to keep forgetting that their “war on coal” campaign against President Obama didn’t work — that he’s the one who won the November 2012 election.

Here in West Virginia, and in neighboring Kentucky, politicians from both parties raced to attack EPA’s proposal. Despite some suggestions otherwise, the hysteria was pretty much bipartisan. It’s true that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin did actually speak the words “diversifying our economy.”  But Gov. Tomblin did so only after blasting the EPA proposal — which his Department of Environmental Protection hadn’t yet fully read or analyzed — as realizing  “our worst fears” because it might mean power plants would “use less West Virginia coal.”

A statement yesterday from Sen. Joe Manchin might have seemed a tad tame, but that’s only because just last week the senator was declaring that people “are going to die” because of EPA’s efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions — and because Sen. Manchin’s past reactions to proposals to fight climate change have involved turning firearms on a defenseless piece of legislation.

It’s true that the state’s top Republican — Attorney General Patrick Morrisey — promised “to review every line, of every paragraph, of every page of this proposal” to find a way to have it thrown out in court.  But the two best hopes of the Democrats to retain a U.S. Senate seat or pick up a House seat — Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and House candidate Nick Casey — both promised to do everything they could, if elected, to block the EPA proposal from being finalized. As for Rep. Nick Rahall, his office has resorted to using the unnecessary rhetoric of the coal industry, inserting “war on coal” into its press releases on these issues.

Obama Global Warming Winners and Losers

In this March 9, 2006 file photo, a large dozer sit ready for work at Peabody Energy’s Gateway Coal Mine near Coulterville, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File) 

What’s becoming increasing clear, though, is that even the Democrats are out of step with the people of the coalfields on these issues.  Just look at the results of a Washington Post-ABC News Poll made public yesterday:

Americans living in coal-heavy states are supportive of limiting greenhouse gas emissions in the poll, even as their states will be forced to make bigger adjustments to meet the EPA’s new emissions targets. Among those in states where a majority of electricity is produced by burning coal, 69 percent say the government should place limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Support is a similar 71 percent in states where less than half of electricity comes from coal.

Previous polls have shown the same sorts of results (see here and here). Generally, people in the coalfields don’t really care for mountains getting blown up. They don’t at all like the idea of coal miners getting blown up. And they aren’t too keen on carbon pollution creating super-storms and an otherwise unlivable climate.

As for West Virginia Democrats, do they really think that trying to out pro-coal the Republicans is a winning strategy for not losing key congressional seats or their state House majority? More importantly, what about the future of a state where a huge chunk of the coal industry is already expected to go away — regardless of what EPA does? The only West Virginia Democrat to really talk much sense yesterday, the retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, put it this way:

I understand the fears that these rules will eliminate jobs, hurt our communities, and drive up costs for working families …  However, rather than let fear alone drive our response, we should make this an opportunity to build a stronger future for ourselves. … The threat that climate change and unhealthy air pose to all of our futures cannot be understated.  And, the costs of inaction are far greater than the costs of action.