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Coal May Have More Friends Now

June 29, 2013
By MIKE MYER , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Voters in states such as West Virginia and Ohio won't put up with excuses from the U.S. Senate this time around. When the issue was hurting the coal industry badly, some lawmakers were able to claim they couldn't do anything about President Barack Obama.

But now it's different. Now, Obama has made it clear he intends to kill the coal industry - and thus, reasonably priced electricity for tens of millions of Americans. Back to that in a moment.

When Obama launched his war on coal during his first term, some Democrat lawmakers insisted they couldn't do anything about it. Obama was using existing authority granted to the Environmental Protection Agency, they claimed.

That was a spurious claim, of course. What Congress gave in the form of power to the EPA, Congress can take away. And, as some federal judges have noted, the agency is exceeding its statutory authority in some of its war on coal assaults.

Last week, Obama revealed a plan to nail the lid down on the coffin he already has prepared for the coal industry. He will use the executive branch, without consulting Congress, to do it, he emphasized.

Obama was restrained during his first term from pursuing the war on coal as vigorously as he wished. Now that he's been re-elected, the gloves can come off.

But members of the Senate and House of Representatives lack that luxury. All members of the House will be up for re-election in November 2014, as will 33 senators. Fourteen of them are Republicans, while 19 are Democrats.

Friends of coal and the cheap electricity it provides can rely on the House to try to rein Obama in. But the Senate still is controlled by Democrats, though only by the narrow margin of 54-46.

Undoubtedly, some of them will stick with Obama and anti-coal Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

But others may decide they don't want to explain to voters why they allowed Obama to kill jobs by the hundreds of thousands and jack up household electric bills by hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year. That is true especially in states where coal-fired power plants now provide substantial percentages of electricity.

Of the 19 Democrats up for re-election in 2014, 13 come from states where one-third or more of the power is generated at coal-fired stations. In some, such as West Virginia, nearly all of the voters thank coal miners when they flip their light switches on..

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.., is among those whose terms expire this time around. He, along with a few other key coal-state senators, has announced he will not seek re-election.

But Jay doesn't want to poison the waters for his party's nominee. During Obama's first term, he was a staunch supporter of White House environmental initiatives. But after the president's declaration of all-out war this week, Rockefeller backed away a bit. "Any action on climate change is going to have a direct effect on the lives of our mining communities ... and on the pocketbooks of every one of our middle-class families still dealing with a recovering job market," he warned.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is not up for re-election until 2018. He, too, has been a reliable supporter of Obama. But after the president's announcement, he said the nation must reduce greenhouse gases "in a way that creates Ohio jobs rather than puts them at risk."

Pro-coal senators such as Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., already may be counting votes to determine how many senators of both parties are rethinking their positions as they calculate how angry voters will be when their power bills start going up, the jobs go away because energy-intensive industries no longer can compete, and large regions of their states dry up and blow away because mines have shut down.

Now, vote counting is an inexact science, especially in a situation such as this where some Republicans have fallen under the sway of environmental radicals. But my guess is that a "Stop the War on Coal" bill would have a better chance in the Senate than it would have a year ago.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

 
 

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