UMWA backs Tennant in U.S. Senate race

September 2, 2014 by Ken Ward Jr.

Tennant Power Plant

The Gazette’s Dr. Paul Nyden had the story from yesterday’s Labor Day Picnic down in Racine:

On Monday, Roberts and the UMW announced their endorsement of Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in her race against Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

“You stand with us,” Roberts said to Tennant, “so today, we proudly stand with you.”

Here’s the UMWA’s press release:

The United Mine Workers of America’s (UMWA) National Council of COMPAC, the union’s political action arm, last week voted unanimously to endorse West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) in the United States Senate.

“Natalie has been a strong supporter of active and retired UMWA members throughout her entire career, and was an especially strong supporter of our members and their families during last year’s battle to preserve jobs, pensions and retiree health care when Patriot Coal declared bankruptcy,” said UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts in announcing the endorsement today

“She stuck with us in that fight, and I believe the strong support we received from her and other political leaders who came to our side made a huge difference in the successful outcome we were able to achieve at Patriot Coal,” Roberts said. “We will never forget the strength of her commitment to our cause.

“And don’t let anyone fool you – Natalie Tennant is standing with coal miners again in our fight against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rules that threaten our members’ jobs, our retirees’ security, and our communities’ ability to survive,” Roberts said.

“West Virginia coal miners give their lungs, their knees and their backs to power this country, and they deserve a Senator who will put their health and safety above corporate profits,” said Tennant. “While I am fighting to protect coal jobs and keep our miners working, I will fight just as hard to keep them safe, and protect the health care and pensions they have earned over a lifetime or work.”

Tennant has said her very first act as Senator will be to sign on to the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act, which was introduced in response to the Upper Big Branch mine tragedy that took the lives of 29 coal miners in 2010. Tennant has also pledged to support bankruptcy reform to ensure the promises made to miners while they are working are kept when they retire.

“Natalie Tennant gets it,” Roberts said. “She gets how important health and safety on the job is for coal miners because she saw the suffering of friends and neighbors who lost loved ones in the Farmington #9 disaster. She gets how important pensions and retiree health care are for tens of thousands of retired West Virginia coal miners because she knows so many of them personally. She’s been in their homes, had supper at their tables, listened to their concerns.

“And Natalie Tennant gets how critical it is to West Virginia to preserve the coal jobs we have today,” Roberts said. “She marched side by side with us in July in Pittsburgh as we protested the EPA’s rules. We didn’t ask her to come; she came on her own because she is committed to coal miners, their families, their jobs and their communities. That’s the kind of leadership West Virginia families need.”

The union’s endorsement came after a long internal process, starting with a poll of UMWA membership conducted by Hart Research Associates earlier this year that showed Tennant was the clear choice over her opponent, Rep. Shelly Moore Capito (R), among UMWA members in West Virginia. The West Virginia State Council of COMPAC voted to endorse Tennant by a 37-1 margin prior to the National Council’s action last week.



9 Responses to “UMWA backs Tennant in U.S. Senate race”

  1. Bo Webb says:

    There goes Roberts again preaching the same ol false rhetoric about the epa. If he cares so much about the people he represents why is he not preaching about the fact that non union mountaintop removal demolition crews continue to take coal miners jobs? Why doesn’t he express his concerns for the health of coal miners families that live beneath the toxic blasting from MTR demolition sites? Why doesn’t he acknowledge the science that shows MTR blasting is killing innocent people that live in MTR communities? There is no war on coal, that rant is false. There is however, a war on the people that live beneath and near mountaintop removal. Sadly, Roberts is one of the leaders of the war on People, along with his sidekick Joe Manchin, and they have obviously recruited Tenant as a new officer.

  2. david morrison says:

    No war on coal?
    Obama said during his 2008 campaign that companies can apply for permits to build coal- fired power plants, but they will go bankrupt trying.
    Is that not a declaration of war?

  3. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    david morrison,

    You’re taking then-Sen. Obama’s comments greatly out of context, as we’ve been over many, many times before on this blog. Here’s the story we published about those comments at the time:


    Published: Tuesday, November 04, 2008
    Page: 9B

    The McCain campaign is trying to sway coal state voters by selectively quoting from a 10-month-old interview to allege that Obama plans to “bankrupt the coal industry” with his plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

    Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin kicked off the last-minute attack Sunday during an appearance in Marietta, Ohio. At about the same time, clips of select portions of Obama’s January comments to the San Francisco Chronicle surfaced on conservative blogs and Web sites.

    But Obama campaign officials, and Chronicle editors, said the Illinois senator’s remarks were taken greatly out of context.

    And, the “cap-and-trade” carbon dioxide control plan Obama advocates is one of the generally accepted proposals for trying to deal with climate change – and a plan that Republican John McCain has also embraced.

    Joseph Romm, a former Clinton Energy Department official and physicist who writes the Climate Progress blog, conceded “an inartful choice of words by Obama.”

    “But fundamentally, his remarks reflect an accurate understanding of the impact – indeed, the goal – of serious climate regulations, if we ever get around to them,” Romm wrote in a Monday-morning blog post.

    During a Jan. 17 interview with the Chronicle’s editorial board, an editorial writer noted that Obama co-sponsored a bill to encourage turning coal into liquid fuel for vehicles, an approach energy experts warn would likely create more greenhouse emissions than traditional gasoline. The editorial writer asked Obama how he squared his support for coal with the need to do something about climate change.

    Obama responded that the country needs to “figure out how we can use coal without emitting greenhouse gases and carbon,” and that he believes a “cap-and-trade” emissions program is the best way to do that.

    Such a program would put an overall ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions. Companies would need “allowances” from regulators for every ton of carbon dioxide their facilities pump into the atmosphere. Companies could reduce their emissions to meet the caps. Or they could buy or trade for “allowances” to keep using older facilities.

    “That would create a market in which whatever technologies are out there being presented, whatever power plants are being built, they would have to meet the rigors of that market, and the ratcheted down caps that are imposed every year,” Obama told Chronicle editors. “So if somebody wants to build a coal power plant, they can, it’s just that it would bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

    During her Marietta appearance, Palin said only that Obama had said, “Sure, if the industry wants to build new coal-fired power plants, they can go ahead and try, but they can do it only in a way that will bankrupt the coal industry, and he’s comfortable letting that happen.”

    Palin also alleged that the San Francisco paper, which endorsed Obama, had hidden the coal remarks from its readers and the general public.

    “Why is this audio tape just now surfacing?” Palin asked, drawing shouts of “liberal media!” from the crowd at her Marietta rally.

    But John Diaz, editor of the Chronicle’s editorial pages, said the entire audio and video of Obama’s interview has been available online for months at

    “Obama hardly sounded like a man determined to shut down the industry,” Diaz wrote on a newspaper blog. “What the Illinois senator offered was a textured explanation of his determination to encourage cleaner coal technologies.”

    Palin’s attack drew a flurry of responses from Obama supporters, including Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who called her comments “absolutely ridiculous” and “exactly the kind of deceptive politicking voters are fed up with.”

    United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts issued a statement saying, “Despite what the McCain campaign and some far right-wing blogs would have Americans believe, Senator Obama has been and remains a tremendous supporter of coal and the future of coal.”

    Obama campaign officials provided reporters with a collection of responses “for background purposes,” but spokesman Dan Leistikow would say on the record only that Obama “has outlined a $150 billion investment in clean coal and other technologies to create jobs and build a new economy.”

    Transcript of Obama’s coal remarks

    Here is a transcript of the question and answer regarding coal during Sen. Barack Obama’s interview with the San Francisco Chronicle on Jan. 17, 2008:

    Chronicle: Senator, you introduced a bill promoting coal to liquid fuels, and then you said you’d only support them if they emitted fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline. Now, all of the scientific evidence supports to coal being dirtier than pretty much anything else. So how are you going to square your support for coal with the need to fight global warming?

    Obama: I’ve already done it. I voted against the Clear Skies bill, in fact I was the deciding vote, despite the fact that I’m a coal state and that half of my state thought I had thoroughly betrayed them, because I think clean air is critical and global warming is critical.

    But this notion of no coal, I think is an illusion. Because the fact of the matter is that right now we are getting a lot of our energy from coal and China is building a coal power plant once a week. So what we have to do is we have to figure out how can we use coal without emitting greenhouse gases and carbon, and how can we sequester that carbon and capture it. If we can’t, then, we’re going to still be working on alternatives.

    Chronicle: Alternatives including coal?

    Obama: Let me kind of describe my overall policy. What I have said is that we would put a cap and trade system in place that is as aggressive if not more aggressive than anybody else’s out there.

    I was the first to call for a 100 percent auction on the cap and trade system, which means that every unit of carbon or greenhouse gas that is emitted would be charged to the polluter.

    That would create a market in which whatever technologies are out there being presented, whatever power plants are being built, they would have to meet the rigors of that market, and the ratcheted down caps that are imposed every year.

    So if somebody wants to build a coal power plant, they can, it’s just that it would bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.

    That will also generate billions of dollars that we can invest in solar, wind, biodiesel and other alternative energy approaches. The only thing that I’ve said with respect to coal, I haven’t been some coal booster. I have said that, for us to take coal off the table as an ideological matter, as opposed to saying that if technology allows us to use coal in a clean way we should pursue it, that I think is the right approach.

    The same with respect to nuclear. Right now we don’t know how to store nuclear waste wisely and we don’t know how to deal with some of the safety issues that remain. So it’s widely expensive to pursue nuclear energy. But I tell you what, if we could figure out how to store it safely, then I think most of us would say that might be a pretty good deal.

    The point is if we set rigorous standards for the allowable emissions, then we can allow the market to determine, and technology and entrepreneurs to pursue what is the best approach to take, as opposed to us saying at the outset, here are the winners that we’re picking, and maybe we pick wrong and maybe we pick right.


    Reach Ken Ward Jr. at or 348-1702.

  4. david morrison says:

    Thanks for showing this.
    Saying Obama is conducting a war on coal is hyperbole which is unfortunately over used by the left and right wings alike, and gives much ammunition to newspaper columnists and editors and TV commentors. However, if the coal supporters had used words like “attacked” instead of “war” I’m sure your ilk would have been just as vociferous. But what are coal miners whose way of life is threatened supposed to do? Platitudes are obscene.
    But beyond that, what an awful tragedy that destroying their way of life will have no significant effect on climate change! Scientists know this and so does Obama which is a worst tragedy.

  5. Phil Smith says:

    Two things regarding Bo Webb’s comments:

    President Robert’s comments in this release about the effects of the EPA rules are not false; the EPA acknowledges that their rules are going to significantly reduce coal production and corresponding mining jobs throughout Appalachia. And although the workers at UMWA-represented mines have been more successful than those at non-union mines in avoiding layoffs over the last few years, the scale of the cuts coming to Appalachian production will hit everyone hard.

    Reducing coal mining at union mines reduces company payments into the UMWA Health and Retirement Funds to fund pensions and retiree health care, including perhaps Mr. Webb’s and certainly many of his neighbors.

    And it is difficult for me to see how anyone can reasonably argue that a cut to or elimination of wages and benefits paid to thousands of working miners, as well as the retirement benefits paid to UMWA retirees and widows, will not have a significantly bad impact on the economies of communities throughout the coalfields. We may wish the economy in those areas was diversified enough to withstand such a shock, but it is not. And under the timetable laid out by these rules, that shock is coming long before any program that may be developed to ramp up economic diversification can be firmly established. That’s not to say such a program or programs shouldn’t be developed, but robust economic development takes time and resources to get in place and make successful.

    Those are facts, not rhetoric.

    Lastly, despite Mr. Webb’s comment, the phrase, “War on Coal” does not appear anywhere in the above release. As a Vietnam veteran who served in-country in the infantry, President Roberts has seen what war really is. He does not, and the UMWA does not, use that phrase.

    In our view, what is happening in this situation is a series of policy decisions made by the administration and EPA which will have little if any practical effect in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions but will cause a significant and lasting loss of coal production in this country and corresponding loss of employment, wages and benefits for the members who pay dues to our organization. I cannot for the life of me understand why some people take issue with us when we speak up and challenge those policies.

  6. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    As you know, I believe the question for the UMWA is *exactly* what sort of climate change policy does your organization support? Precisely what set of policies that would include a mandate for reductions of U.S. power plant CO2 emissions would the mine workers agree to support?

    It’s certainly a reasonable thing for the UMWA to argue against policies it believes are not in the best interests of its members … But if the union truly does agree that climate change is happening, and that fossil fuel emissions are [a big] part of the reason, then at some point, the mine workers need to tell policymakers precisely what the group’s proposal for addressing this crisis is.

    Otherwise, what we’re stuck with is more delay, and more delay, and more inaction, which dooms our grandchildren to a very hostile climate in which to live.


  7. david morrison says:

    Good point.

    For starters, how about EPA paying a year’s wages to each coal miner laid off since Jan. 1, 2013 and the same for future laid off ones?
    To date it would only cost about $400 million, a mere decimal point on the total federal government expenditure figure for one year.

  8. There is not a “War on Coal.” There IS, and should be, a war on greenhouse gas emissions. The effect they are already having on our climate is simply undeniable. When you combine ever-increasing human industrial activity with the clearing of forests (which sequester carbon) to make room for it all, well, anyone can do the math.

  9. david morrison says:

    While this sort of thinking tends to increase the national debt, that’s no reason why we West Virginians should not tell our Senators and Congressmen to fight for justice for these coal miners. Kind of like saying we need not worry about draining the swamp when we’re up to our necks in alligators.

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