President Barack Obama’s plan to curb power plant pollution has put Democrats running for office in coal country in a tough spot: Criticize their president, or side with him and become part of what could be a major drag on their region’s economy.
Democrats are mounting a hard fight to preserve their sixseat Senate majority in November elections. Many of the toughest battles will deep in coal country, including Kentucky, West Virginia and Colorado. In those states, Republicans have already been hammering Democratic candidates for ties to Obama and what the Republicans have branded his “war on coal.”
In some cases, Democratic candidates have joined that criticism of Obama in the hope of improving their chances.
Kentucky’s Democratic nominee for Senate, Alison Lundergan Grimes, said Obama was attacking her state’s coal industry and planned newspaper ads criticizing the president. In West Virginia, Senate hopeful Natalie Tennant promised to oppose Obama if elected in November. And in the House, Rep. Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat facing a tough re-election bid, said he would introduce legislation to block the plan.
Even the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who also faces a tough re-election fight, questioned the measure’s utility.
Obama’s initiative aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by nearly a third from 2005 levels by 2030. But it delays the deadline for some states to begin complying until long after Obama leaves office.
Polls show a bipartisan national majority of Americans support limiting greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists blame for climate change, according to a Washington Post/ ABC News poll released Monday.
Fifty-seven percent of Republicans and 79 percent of Democrats support state-level limits on greenhouse gas emissions, according to the poll. And 70 percent of all Americans say the federal government should limit greenhouse gases from power plants.
But deep in coal country, such proposals are politically untenable.
In Kentucky, Grimes pledged to “fiercely oppose the president’s attack on Kentucky’s coal industry.”
Grimes’s opponent, the top Republican in the Senate, brushed off Grimes’s position as politically driven. Coal accounts for 90 percent of the electricity generated in Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters at Louisville’s airport.
“I’m not surprised she says she’s pro-coal,” McConnell told reporters. “What else would she say?”
In West Virginia, Tennant vowed to oppose Obama.
“I refuse to accept that we have to choose between clean air and good-paying jobs, when I know West Virginia can lead the way in producing technology that does both,” she said.
In Colorado, Sen. Mark Udall called the plan “a good start” on dealing with a genuine threat.
“Coloradans have seen firsthand the harmful effects of climate change, including severe drought, record wildfires and reduced snowpack,” he said.
But he credited his state for taking steps already without federal mandates.
And the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate’s energy panel, Sen. Mary Landrieu of oilrich Louisiana, opposed Obama’s plan.
“While it is important to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, this should not be achieved by EPA regulations,” Landrieu said. “Congress should set the terms, goals and timeframe.”