11.05.2012 0

Will Obama’s war on coal lose him the election?

By Mack Isadore — The conventional wisdom among the Washington punditry is that Ohio will decide the election.   In recent days, however, the Romney campaign has expanded its efforts to include Pennsylvania, a state that last supported a Republican president in 1988.   While Republicans have often forayed into the Keystone state with false hopes of victory (Bush in 2004, McCain in 2008), some analysts wonder if this time might be different.   What links these two states together?  Coal.

The entire eastern side of Ohio is full of coal mines and plants.  In 2008, the majority of those counties went red, but the higher populated areas, around Cleveland, were solidly blue.

In 2010, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources identified over 16 coal mining sites in Jefferson and Belmont Counties — two counties that have voted Democratic since the 1976 election.  Tuscarawas County, which swung from Bush to Obama, has 14 coal mining sites. In each of these counties, Obama won in 2008 by fewer than 3 percent (1000 votes or less).  If coal mining communities break hard for Romney, he might actually pick up some counties that Republicans have not won since the Nixon era.

Pennsylvania, meanwhile, is extremely heavy in coal mines and plants in the southwestern portion of the state, around Pittsburgh.   With the exception of Allegheny County (in which Pittsburgh is located), the coal counties went for McCain in 2008 (a surprising twist, since 3 of the nearby counties went for Kerry in 2004).  In order for Romney to win the state, he will need to win heavily in the western portion of the state, while keeping down his losses in the eastern counties.

Though the coal industry has in part suffered due to the wild success of natural gas in recent years (in spite of the administration, it must be added), coal production has declined, and closures have been announced — with environmental regulations taking much of the blame. Chief among those is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2009 carbon endangerment finding — which found carbon dioxide, a biological gas necessary for the very existence of life to be a “harmful pollutant” under the terms of the Clean Air Act.

The Obama Administration has made no secret of their intent to unload on the coal industry if they survive on November 6.  Looking ahead, the Bipartisan Policy Group projects EPA regulations will be the cause of 30 percent of coal plant closures over the next 4 years.

Perhaps the deadliest of these regulations is the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (or MACT), which the EPA believes will cost upwards of $10 billion over the next three years — and whose carbon requirements would completely cripple the coal industry with upwards of 60,000 jobs lost — per year.

This strikes a nerve with voters in the swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, with a recent poll showing upwards of 70 percent of voters in those key states support coal when informed of the EPA’s coal-killing regulations.

Is this push by the Romney campaign paying off with coal-minded voters?  Anecdotal evidence suggests it may.  In Harrison County, Ohio — home to 7 coal sites — local Democrats have embarked on an intense “educational” campaign after seeing a disturbing number of Democrats place yard signs opposing Obama’s war on coal.

In Pennsylvania, Democrats have unleashed the ALF-CIO President to coal-heavy Pittsburgh to attempt to paint Romney as the anti-coal candidate.  But it may be too late for the Democrats to counter the miners’ dimming view of the President.  The liberal United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union has taken the surprising step of not endorsing anyone in 2012 (despite their hearty 2008 endorsement of Obama), citing members concerns over EPA coal regulations.

The Romney campaign has made the “war on coal” a central message in its appeal to the coal mining communities in Ohio and western Pennsylvania.   If its efforts pay off, it may be just enough to swing the election in Romney’s favor.

Mack Isadore is a Liberty Features Syndicate writer.

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