Virginia Democratic Senate nominee Tim Kaine is using his union backers to deflect criticism of his history of supporting anti-coal regulation.
Kaine released an ad last week, titled "Big Boys," in which a miner named Jeff slammed Republican candidate George Allen for his support of coal companies in labor disputes.
"Allen knows where his bread is buttered; he’s for the big boys," Jeff says in the ad. "Tim Kaine is for me."
The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) has refused to endorse Barack Obama for reelection due to his support for stringent environmental regulations.
"This is support from big labor," said Virginia Delegate Terry Kilgore, whose district lies in the heart of Virginia coal country. "Anyone from this region knows that if this administration goes back in with a Democratic Senate it’s going to make it impossible to keep miners employed."
Kaine is a long-time proponent of cap-and-trade legislation that would limit emissions output for manufacturers and potentially cripple the coal industry.
He signed as governor a symbolic agreement with the United Kingdom pledging to curb Virginia’s electricity consumption by 19 percent by 2025 using harsh carbon emissions standards.
"I support legislation that includes a cap-and-trade program for emissions of all greenhouse gases, imposes economy-wide controls, rather than singling out a particular sector, and accounts for state efforts to standardize methodologies to record and measure green house gas emissions through the Climate Registry,"Kaine told the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in 2007.
His endorsement of cap-and-trade did not wane when he became the head of the Democratic National Committee in 2009. He has been endorsed by a slew of environmentalist groups that continue to campaign against coal energy, including the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters, despite attempts to distance himself from outside-the-mainstream positions on green issues.
The advertisement focuses little on Kaine’s positions on energy issues, but draws attention to the creation of a coal-fire plant constructed while he served as Virginia’s governor between 2006 and 2010.
"As governor, Tim Kaine … supported the new Wise coal plant and its jobs," the miner says.
Kaine has made similar claims on the campaign trail that have attracted media scrutiny. The New York Times examined the history of the plant, conducting "more than a dozen interviews" in the area the plant was started.
It found that "no one was familiar with any role that Mr. Kaine had in getting the plant going."
Local officials have a different recollection of Kaine’s role. Delegate Kilgore, whose district includes the Wise plant, pointed out that the Kaine administration obstructed the plant’s construction despite the fact that Democratic Sen. Mark Warner approved it.
"Tim Kaine had very little to do with the coal fired plant—we really had to fight his air board to get the required air permits to move forward," Kilgore told theWashington Free Beacon. "Mark Warner helped us; he wrote a letter to the board. The Kaine administration sat this one out."
Kaine did not return emails for comment.
Kaine is relying heavily on large labor organizations to help him court voters in the coal-rich southern regions of Virginia. The AFL-CIO preempted Kaine’s own release of the ad, tweeting out a video before quickly deleting the post, according to conservative blogger Bearing Drift.
The 150,000-member AFL-CIO Virginia did not return requests for comment. AFL-CIO has spent nearly $70,000 canvassing on Kaine’s behalf.
Unions have been instrumental to Kaine’s campaign. Six labor groups have spent more than $3 million on mailers, advertisements, and voter outreach, according to Virginia Watchdog.
The coal industry in Virginia has struggled in recent months to comply with strict air and water regulations that the EPA expects to finalize after the 2012 election. In September, Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest coal companies in the region, shuttered eight mines in Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, claiming 1,200 jobs.
More than 110 coal power plants have closed since Obama took office in 2012.
The traditionally conservative south and southwestern parts of the state are keys to Kaine’s election strategy. If Mitt Romney maintains his edge in the polls, Kaine will need to attract crossover votes to win.
He currently holds a one-point edge over Allen, according to a RealClearPolitics poll average.