Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Coal in the Stocking

Allison Lundergan Grimes has fired back at President Obama on the new EPA regulations he wants to place on carbon emissions.  Grimes finds herself in the unpleasant position of having to defend Kentucky's coal mining interests.  It's not so much jobs as it is cheap electricity that makes coal a big issue in the Bluegrass State.  As far as jobs go, Kentucky coal mines only account for one per cent of state's labor force.  However, coal generates 92 per cent of  the state's electricity, making it one of the cheapest rates in the country.

Yet, throughout this campaign both Grimes and McConnell have been stressing jobs.  The cuts in coal mining jobs are a result of the industry itself, which requires less and less manpower to produce the same amount of coal.  The EPA regulations concern the emissions from the power plants.  But, in a laggard state economy (8.4% unemployment) every job counts at least in terms of political rhetoric.

Grimes has distanced herself from Obama because the President is not popular in the state.  He failed to garner much in the way of support in each of the last two elections.  In 2012, when Obama ran unopposed in the primaries, many Kentucky counties remained "uncommitted," and Romney handily won in the general election, despite the state having a Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, who supports the Affordable Care Act and has made the state one of the role models for the health insurance exchanges.  But, Beshear also knows not to mess with Big Daddy Coal.

Coal companies have danced around the Clean Air Act for decades.  The average age of a coal-burning power plant is 42 years, which means they are not only major sources of carbon dioxide emissions (38%), but aren't very efficient either.  However, the cost of building new power plants would result in an increase in electricity prices so most states make due with what they have rather than anger their residents.

Grimes chooses not to address any of these issues head on, but continues to attack McConnell in terms most Kentuckians easily understand.  In so doing, she got herself into a flap for using a Ukrainian model (pictured above) in one of her newspaper ads defending coal mining jobs.  However, revamping Kentucky's energy sector would probably create many more jobs than would holding onto fossilized coal-burning power plants for a relative handful of mining jobs.

Not surprisingly, Grimes has called on the affable Bill Clinton to campaign with her in Kentucky, helping her to raise more money than Mitch in April.  Clinton never made any serious effort to enforce EPA regulations while President and has tried to play both sides on the carbon dioxide emissions debate in his typical ambivalent way.

Sadly, politics appears to have become a zero-sum game of Democratic vs. Republican with many Democrats now leaning to the right of the center to win seats in Congress, further losing sight of the progressive agenda that had once been the hallmark of the Democratic Party.

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