This article originally provided by
The Wall Street Journal
May 19, 2008
Coal Country Lacks Consensus on a Nominee
By CHRISTOPHER COOPER
As the Democratic presidential race unfolds in coal country
this week and with John McCain's recent rollout of a global-warming initiative,
coal industry officials and environmentalists are unsure which candidate to
Unlike the current political cycle, the Bush-Gore and
Bush-Kerry contests of 2000 and 2004, respectively, offered a "pretty stark
contrast," said Kraig Naasz, chief executive of the National Mining Association,
a Washington lobby group. The organization supported Mr. Bush over his rivals,
who decried global warming and the environmental damage that results from
"mountaintop removal," the common practice of blowing apart peaks to get at the
With miner support, Mr. Naasz says, Mr. Bush in 2004 was able
to capture 10 of 15 counties in Ohio where coal mining is prevalent, and 20 of
28 such counties in West Virginia -- votes that may have been crucial to his
winning the election. The previous Republican presidential candidate, Bob Dole,
captured a fraction of these counties in 1996.
Miner support also gave Mr. Bush 22 of 28 coal counties in
Pennsylvania (Mr. Dole carried only one of them). Pennsylvania may prove crucial
to victory this fall.
The primary season ends in Montana, the state with the greatest
coal reserves, on June 3. Another coal-rich state, Kentucky, holds its primary
Mr. Naasz, who has personally contributed $1,000 to Sen.
McCain's campaign, said the members of his lobby group remain divided over the
issue. Campaign-contribution data from OpenSecrets.org show that mining
interests have donated $3 million to federal candidates in the current election
cycle -- an amount that might double, if past trends are an indicator. Federal
records show that Sen. McCain, the likely Republican nominee, has received
$59,000 through March from mining interests, while Sens. Barack Obama and
Hillary Clinton have taken in $28,000 and $33,000, respectively.
Both Democratic candidates have been accused by
environmentalists of pandering during the campaign season. During a recent
interview with West Virginia Public Radio, Sen. Clinton, of New York, appeared
to wobble on mountaintop mining: "You know, maybe there is a way to recover
those mountaintops once they have been stripped of the coal. You know, I think
we've got to look at this from a practical perspective."
Sen. Obama, as a senator from coal-producing Illinois, has
sided with the industry on certain legislation, such as sponsoring a measure in
early 2007 to subsidize coal-to-liquid refineries to make fuel from coal.
Moreover, Sen. Obama has adopted some of the vocabulary
preferred by the coal industry, referring often to so-called "clean coal," a
process, still in the research stage, in which carbon from burning coal is
sequestered and stored underground. Coal-fired electric plants are believed to
be one of the chief causes of global warming.
"Barack Obama believes in clean Kentucky coal," says a mailer
recently sent to voters in that state. The campaign also has released a
television ad in Kentucky featuring a coal miner named Randy Henry, who praises
Sen. Obama's stance on coal. "Barack understands it," Mr. Henry says.
Such campaign tactics annoy environmentalists such as Brent
Blackwelder, president of a group called Friends of the Earth Action, which is
opposed to the use of coal. Though the political arm of his group endorsed Sen.
Obama after former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards dropped out of the race,
that hasn't stopped the activist from lobbing a few bombs. In a recent news
release, Mr. Blackwelder chided Sen. Obama for "parroting" the words of the coal
industry. "There's no such thing as 'clean coal,'" he said.
In an interview, Mr. Blackwelder criticized the Illinois
senator for declining to "make any strong statement on mountaintop removal"
during recent campaign swings through West Virginia and Kentucky.
The Obama campaign didn't respond to a request for comment on
the coal-region campaigning.
Complicating the choice this year for miners is Sen. McCain,
who has, like the other two candidates, developed a platform to address global
warming by creating a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions. On paper
at least, Sen. McCain's carbon-trading plan is far less restrictive than those
proposed by Sens. Obama and Clinton.
What gives mining interests pause is Sen. McCain's failure to
cast ballots on five votes over the past year or so. All were related to a major
energy bill, a version of which eventually passed. Sens. Clinton and Obama were
present for all of the votes.
An official with the McCain campaign said the Arizona senator
was busy campaigning and working on an immigration bill when the votes took