Mitch McConnell, Kentucky's senior U. S. Senator and the Senate's top Republican, has introduced a bill (S. 1514) called the Saving Coal Jobs Act of 2013. The measure would bar a national energy tax, prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing carbon pollution regulations for coal-fired power plants, and streamline the permitting process for coal mining projects.
His timing is no coincidence. By offering this pro-coal legislation now, McConnell, who is seeking re-election next year, draws a stark contrast with the likely Democratic nominee, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
At last year's Democratic convention Grimes was a delegate for Barack Obama, whose anti-coal administration is about to implement strict emissions standards expected to block any new coal power plants. Obama's EPA will next target existing coal-fired plants.
Grimes is also having campaign fundraisers in Washington and Las Vegas hosted by another anti-coal Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Reid famously said that "coal makes us sick" and causes global warming that is "ruining our country; ruining our world."
Reid is blocking McConnell's coal bill. McConnell is opposing a Reid-backed nominee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission who is hostile to coal.
When it comes to coal, however, what happens in Vegas will not stay in Vegas. If Grimes gets to Washington she will almost certainly provide a vote to keep the anti-coal Reid running the Senate and supporting Obama's coal-killing agenda.
This Grimes-Reid connection caused Bill Bissett, President of the Kentucky Coal Association, to say, "There is a real question of what that relationship is going to be with someone who has carried out all of the president's marching order against coal in the Senate." The Kentucky coal industry considers McConnell its best friend in Washington.
It is amusing to watch Grimes try to portray herself as a friend of coal while cozying up to its worst enemies. This issue will have big impact on the Senate race because the Kentucky coal industry is facing some of its toughest times ever from the combined effect of Obama's war on coal and the natural gas boom.
The publication Coal Age recently reported that, "2012 was the worst year for coal production in the Commonwealth in almost half a century. Total output was down by 16.3% from 2011, plunging by 27.6% in the Central Appalachian coalfields in the eastern part of the state while high-sulfur western Kentucky managed a marginal 2.5% increase. Kentucky produced 91.4 million tons last year, its lowest total since 1965."
According to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet's quarterly coal report, "Kentucky coal mines reduced on-site employment by 851 workers, or 6.5 percent, during the second quarter of 2013. As of July 2013, an estimated 12,342 persons are employed at Kentucky coal mines -- the lowest level recorded since the Commonwealth began keeping mining employment statistics in 1927."
James River Coal just announced furloughs of 525 full-time employees and production cuts at multiple mines due to "continued weakness in the domestic and international coal markets." The impact will hit already hard-pressed Eastern Kentucky counties that used to be Democratic strongholds.
Against this depressing backdrop Kentucky First District U. S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, the Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce's subcommittee on Energy and Power, convened a hearing to try to get the details on the Obama administration's climate change activities. He did not have much luck.
Whitfield says Obama's new regulations will "drive up electricity costs and restrict our access to affordable, reliable energy" while making America the only country in the world where a new coal-fired plant to produce electricity cannot be built. He invited 13 federal agencies to testify, but only two, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, showed up.
"Why doesn't the administration want to explain to the public what it is doing?" asks Whitfield. As she dances around the issue Grimes must hope that her fellow Democrats Obama and Reid succeed in keeping Kentucky voters in the dark about their campaign against coal.
Meanwhile, McConnell's position is clear. "The Obama Administration has been waging a War on Coal and Kentucky jobs ever since the President was elected."
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is email@example.com.