Wayne Powell Stop Global Warming Obama’s ‘war on coal’ doesn’t exist
Monday, 02 June 2014 16:42

Obama’s ‘war on coal’ doesn’t exist

Written by  Jeff Biggers | Aljazeera America

Specious slogans dominate key midterm Senate battles in Appalachia, burying West Virginia coal chemical disaster

On Monday, President Barack Obama is expected to announce a new Environmental Protection Agency regulation to cut CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants by 30 percent, setting a cap that will require states to trade or shift toward clean energy alternatives. U.S. Senate candidates in pivotal coal-producing Appalachian states, however, have already fired the opening salvo in the next battle over dirty coal.

Rather than advocating clean energy independence, Republican and Democratic candidates alike are doubling down in defense of Big Coal with a wildly inaccurate “war on coal” rallying call, just in time for the midterm elections. Their bogus claim: Overreaching federal regulations are killing coal jobs.

Central Appalachia is a crucible for the midterms, as a recent Washington Post headline (“Why Senate control could hinge on Democratic opposition to the ‘war on coal’”) posited. For Senate hopefuls running in traditionally coal-friendly states such as West Virginia and Kentucky, painting Obama as anti-coal is practically a prerequisite, regardless of party affiliation.

Such pro-coal stances come only five months after the West Virginia coal chemical disaster, which exposed massive regulatory failures and subjected 300,000 Charleston residents to an endless game of drinking-water roulette with 10,000 gallons of toxic contaminants. One might think these candidates would retire the overblown rhetoric, address the region’s mounting health concerns and even offer ideas for Appalachia’s much-needed transition toward a clean energy economy.

But listening to some of the primary victory speeches, you wouldn’t have suspected that January’s disaster, which cost West Virginia more than $60 million, was the state’s fifth such major industrial accident in eight years. Only a few weeks ago, two coal miners died in a violation-riddled mine. Growing evidence suggests that the toxic fallout from mountaintop removal mining might be one of the worst health care emergencies in the nation. And a key climate change study released last month issued another urgent call to combat the primary cause of global warming — “human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels.”

So let’s call it right: We’re in the throes of a war on coal mining communities and our climate — not on Big Coal.

“For years and years, I’ve listened as the coal companies told our political leaders they’d better not support mine-safety laws, they’d better not support black-lung protections and they’d better not vote for laws to protect our precious water,” third-generation disabled coal miner Carl Shoupe wrote in an op-ed — “Tired of Big Coal telling our pols what to do” — earlier this spring for the Lexington Herald-Leader. 

In Turkey, last month’s coal mining tragedy has resulted in widespread protests against the government, especially when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan implied that such explosions were common, casually drawing a comparison to England’s 19th century coal disasters.

But in Kentucky, West Virginia and even the coal country of Democratic-controlled Illinois, a similar time warp — led by politicians caught between misinformed nostalgia, a failed reality check on the ailing coal industry and the powerful mining lobby — has prevented the region from addressing coal’s indisputable role in climate change (and its untenable health and environmental costs) during election cycles.

West Virginia’s coal chemical disaster notwithstanding, this year’s midterm elections might be the worst worst-case scenario yet. Take the verbal war stewing between U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the senior Republican from Kentucky, and his Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state.

“A vote for my opponent is a vote for a guy who says coal makes you sick,” McConnell said, linking Grimes to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., during his primary victory speech.

Not to be outdone, Grimes shot back. “I don’t agree with the president’s war on coal. I think it’s wrong for Kentucky,” she said during her own victory speech, railing against the Environmental Protection Agency with a fervor that would make a lobbyist with the National Mining Association blush. “It’s on Mitch McConnell’s watch, not mine, that overburdensome regulations have been imposed upon the commonwealth of Kentucky.”

As long as residents’ voices are overpowered by the relentless ‘war on coal’ ads bankrolled by out-of-state coal industry lobby fronts, change must come from the EPA and the White House.

Regardless of whose watch it was, coal country veterans noted the absence of concern for mining safety from either side — and the bad timing of the remarks. The May 20 victory fell on the anniversary of the reckless 2006 Kentucky Darby mine disaster, which the Mine Safety and Health Administration ruled “occurred because the operator did not observe basic mine safety practices.

“As I watched McConnell’s speech last night, I could not help thinking about my grandfather, gasping for his last breath,” wrote Bob Kincaid, a West Virginia–based radio broadcaster and longtime critic of mountaintop removal, in a reference to black lung disease, which still kills three coal miners daily. “Thousands of people in Appalachia have a memory similar to mine,” he added. “McConnell apparently has no such memory.”

And here’s another reality check. As members of Appalachia’s mining communities have noted for years, Kentucky and West Virginia had lost nearly two-thirds of their coal mining jobs long before Obama entered the White House, thanks to heavily mechanized operations and a shift to large-scale strip mining or mountaintop removal mining.

In other words, Obama is not waging a “war on coal.” The front lines have simply shifted to the heartland and the expanding operations in the West. Appalachian coal production will continue to decline in the coming years, but this is because former West Virginia coal barons such as Chris Cline are moving their operations to the cheaper Illinois Basin, where production is booming, and because natural gas fracking operations are on the rise. In fact, coal production remains stable under Obama — projected even to increase by 4 percent in 2014, according to the Energy Information Administration.

But you wouldn’t know that from listening to this year’s candidates. In West Virginia’s U.S. Senate race, facts about the recent chemical spill have been trumped by specious “war on coal” slogans. Both candidates are running against Obama’s energy and environmental policies with a vengeance.

Democratic candidate and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant has vowed to “protect today’s coal jobs from EPA regulations,” while Republican challenger Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, backed by the mining lobby, has prioritized “ending the war on coal.”

Four years ago, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., issued his clarion call for Appalachia and the coal industry to “embrace the future,” adding later that people, not coal, “are West Virginia’s most valuable resource. We must demand to be treated as such.”

Byrd’s call found scant reception in the campaign war rooms, but its sentiment has continued to spread across Appalachia. Kentuckians electrified such hopes for change in 2010 when a regional grassroots movement for “New Power” compelled the East Kentucky Power Cooperative to halt plans to build two coal-burning power plants in Clark County and explore both job-creating energy efficiency programs and renewable energy options.

And in February, one poll found that an astounding 73 percent of West Virginia residents felt the state “has paid too little attention to addressing threats to air and water,” and that “things must change.”

As long as those voices are overpowered by the relentless “war on coal” ads bankrolled by out-of-state coal industry lobby fronts, change must come from the EPA and the White House.

At least, that is, until a new era of candidates in West Virginia, Kentucky and even Illinois finally provides the leadership to speak up about a just transition to “new power” initiatives for clean energy jobs and development during elections and put the worn-out, misleading slogans of the coal wars to rest.

Jeff Biggers is the author of “Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland,” among other books. His website is

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy. 

Original article on Aljazeera America

Read 5612 times

ERA Legislation in your State

Unratified states Gold - Ratified States Purple

Latest News from the Powell Campaign

  • Virginia's Wayne Powell Is An Environmental Profile In Courage
    Virginia's Wayne Powell Is An Environmental Profile In Courage

    Virginia is now being mentioned as a crucial swing state. This Congressional race is certainly one to watch. Perhaps that was why I was so impressed to hear candidate Wayne Powell, (who is challenging incumbent Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for the seat he has held in the 7th District of Virginia since 2001) speak boldly and openly about the environment showdown with Cantor.

    Written on Sunday, 04 November 2012 00:17
  • O’ Brother — Dr. Ralph Stanley to stump for Powell
    O’ Brother — Dr. Ralph Stanley to stump for Powell

    Running against incumbent Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia’s GOP-heavy 7th District is enough to give any Democrat the blues. So Bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley will headline a two-day campaign swing for Powell next week.

    Written on Saturday, 20 October 2012 14:52
  • Can This Guy Defeat Eric Cantor?
    Can This Guy Defeat Eric Cantor?

    Dream on. But Democratic long shot Wayne Powell might put a few dents in the House majority leader's armor. That Powell and Zerban were in LA raising money for what seemed like increasingly less quixotic quests—Powell is the first challenger Cantor has agreed to debate in 10 years, and Zerban's internal polling in September put him within single digits of Ryan—could underscore America's waning infatuation with tea-party-style politics.

    Written on Tuesday, 16 October 2012 10:04
  • VIDEO: Powell/Cantor Debate Post Mortem
    VIDEO: Powell/Cantor Debate Post Mortem

    Perhaps you should give it a look, post-mortem.  After all, this is the first debate Eric Cantor has agreed to in TEN YEARS.

    Written on Friday, 12 October 2012 00:17
  • Cantor camp turns down invitation to free public forum
    Cantor camp turns down invitation to free public forum

    A top aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the Republican will not accept a challenge from Chesterfield County’s Democratic Party to meet its own candidate, Wayne Powell, in a free public forum before the Nov. 6 elections.

    Written on Wednesday, 26 September 2012 20:17
  • Eric Cantor is not particularly popular in his Republican-leaning district.
    Eric Cantor is not particularly popular in his Republican-leaning district.

    Eric Cantor is not particularly popular in his Republican-leaning district. His personal popularity is 37% favorable, 31% unfavorable. Strongly unfavorable views outnumber strongly favorable ones, 25%- 21%. Cantor’s “re-elect” number is weak: 41% want to re-elect Cantor, while 43% want to replace him.

    Written on Saturday, 22 September 2012 17:13
  • Powell TV ad targets Cantor supporters
    Powell TV ad targets Cantor supporters

    Democratic 7th District congressional candidate Wayne Powell is taking his campaign to unseat longterm incumbent Republican Eric Cantor right into the living rooms of central Virginia Republicans. The ad will run district-wide approximately once an hour on Fox News for the entire Convention. The ad buy is indicative of Powell’s strategy of reaching out to all voters regardless of their political affiliation.

    Written on Monday, 27 August 2012 17:44
  • Powell slams Cantor at open town hall meeting
    Powell slams Cantor at open town hall meeting

    A Richmond native and attorney like his opponent, Powell is otherwise very different from 49-year-old Cantor, Majority Leader in the U.S. House since 2011, and Culpeper County’s congressional representative since 2000.

    Cantor’s name came up a lot during Thursday’s “Open Town Hall Meeting” hosted by Powell, who was articulate and well received by local constituents in attendance.

    Written on Thursday, 23 August 2012 13:39
  • Cantor faces Powell in Sept. 28 debate
    Cantor faces Powell in Sept. 28 debate

    House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-7th, will debate Democratic challenger Wayne Powell on Friday, Sept. 28.

    Cantor, who declined to debate Democratic challenger Rick Waugh in 2010, has not debated a Democrat in a general election since 2002, when he squared off with former Georgia congressman and "Dukes of Hazzard" star Ben L. "Cooter" Jones.

    Written on Tuesday, 21 August 2012 15:05
  • Look Out, Cantor, Mudcat is Helping Wayne Powell!
    Look Out, Cantor, Mudcat is Helping Wayne Powell!

    It takes courage to look at a roomful of Democrats and confess that you were a consultant on John Edwards’ presidential campaign.

    But that is exactly what Dave “Mudcat” Saunders did at the June 6 Chesterfield Democratic Committee meeting.  Saunders just put it right out there while telling members how he thinks Wayne Powell can beat 7th District Congressman Eric Cantor.

    Written on Friday, 08 June 2012 01:03
  • Powell Wins Democratic Bid to Face Cantor in VA 7th (Video Interview)
    Powell Wins Democratic Bid to Face Cantor in VA 7th (Video Interview)

    Wayne Powell, Veteran, Small Business Owner and Local Attorney Is the Democratic Nominee to Oppose Eric Cantor. Says Cantor is “epitome of what is wrong in Washington…a career political operator who is the poster child for Washington gridlock and dysfunction”

    Written on Friday, 13 April 2012 19:21
  • Cantor challenger Powell speaks in Culpeper
    Cantor challenger Powell speaks in Culpeper

    “We take care of our own.” That was the major theme of Wayne Powell’s speech Friday at the Raven’s Nest in Culpeper.

    Powell is a Democratic candidate for the 7th District, the seat currently held by House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor.

    Written on Monday, 09 April 2012 15:51
  • Democratic lawyer challenges Representative Cantor
    Democratic lawyer challenges Representative Cantor

    For Wayne Powell, Virginia’s 7th Congressional District “isn’t personal, it’s Cantor.”

    Powell, 62, is challenging Republican incumbent Eric Cantor of Henrico County for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Powell is one of the three candidates running for the spot on the Democratic ballot this fall.

    Written on Thursday, 22 March 2012 10:33
  • Democratic hopeful supports Obama
    Democratic hopeful supports Obama

    Wayne Powell wants to be the Democratic Party nominee to challenge House Majority Leader Rep. Eric I. Cantor, R-Henrico, for the 7th District seat in the House of Representatives in November.

    Written on Thursday, 08 March 2012 18:47
  • Cantor opponent Wayne Powell to serve as pro bono counsel for some of "Capitol Square 31"

    Earlier this evening I spoke with Wayne Powell, one of three 7th Congressional District Democrats seeking the Democratic Party's nomination to face off against Eric Cantor this November. Powell told me that when he heard what had happened at Virginia's Capitol Square, he hurried downtown to offer his legal services to the protesters that had been arrested.

    Written on Monday, 05 March 2012 02:38
  • Wayne Powell reacts to Police Overreaction at Demonstration
    Wayne Powell reacts to Police Overreaction at Demonstration

    E. Wayne Powell, candidate for the Democratic nomination against Eric cantor in the Seventh Congressional District, today released this statement about the incidents at the Capitol.

    Written on Sunday, 04 March 2012 22:51
  • Wayne Powell Has an Amazing Week
    Wayne Powell Has an Amazing Week

    E. Wayne Powell, a candidate for the Democratic nomination to take on Eric Cantor in Virginia's 7th Congressional District, has had a really amazing week. It all started last Thursday when Powell received the endorsement of the Progressive Democrats of America's chapter in Virginia's 7th CD.  Powell's education and experience—especially his service in the military—make him exceptionally well equipped to face Cantor. 

    Written on Thursday, 20 October 2011 00:00
  • Wayne Powell Receives PDA 7th District Endorsement
    Wayne Powell Receives PDA 7th District Endorsement

    On October 13th members of the PDA 7th District Chapter endorsed candidate E. Wayne Powell.

    Written on Friday, 14 October 2011 00:00
  • OWS: The Basis of All That Is Good and Right About Our Country
    OWS: The Basis of All That Is Good and Right About Our Country

    Occasionally I take a long weekend. It’s a chance to take a break from the profession, and the campaign. Last weekend I travelled to New York City. What started as a getaway ended in an exhilarating glimpse of democracy in action.

    Written on Thursday, 06 October 2011 00:00
  • "Eric Cantor's War on American Jobs" by E. Wayne Powell
    "Eric Cantor's War on American Jobs" by E. Wayne Powell

    My name is Wayne Powell, and I'm a Democrat running for Congress in Virginia's 7th Congressional District to replace Eric Cantor. Americans need good jobs now.  Let's face it, as a nation we tend to define ourselves by what we do.  I am an attorney and a retired military officer.  When you deny Americans an opportunity to do meaningful work and contribute to their community by providing services, you are attacking a key part of their individual identities.

    Written on Monday, 19 September 2011 00:00

Sign the ERA Petition


On Friday, September 12th more than 150 activists will go to DC and Demand that their Senators and Representatives support removing the ratification deadline from the ERA (SJ Res 15 and HJ Res 113)


Sign the Petition - Sen. Sanders Run as a Democrat in 2016


VA Endorsed Candidate


VA-07 E. Wayne Powell

Lori Wallach on the TPP from PDA Progressive Roundtable

Progressive Roundtable with Reps. Ellison and Pocan and Lori Wallach on TPP

TPP: The Biggest Threat to the Internet You've Probably Never Heard Of