Mining For Votes

Republican challenger Tom Smith slaps Democratic incumbent Bob Casey over coal plant closure

Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. / AP
September 20, 2012

Regulations on the coal industry are driving massive layoffs and the shuttering of coal plants in Pennsylvania, injecting environmental issues into that state’s hotly contested Senate race between incumbent Democrat Bob Casey Jr. and Republican challenger and coal mining executive Tom Smith.

Alpha Natural Resources recently announced that it is cutting coal production by 16 million tons, laying off 1,200 employees and closing eight mines in Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield blamed his company’s layoffs and mine closures on "a regulatory environment that's aggressively aimed at constraining the use of coal."

"When President Obama ran for office he told us he would bankrupt [the coal industry]," Smith told the Free Beacon.

"It’s been slowly, methodically picking up speed. The choice has been made in Washington that coal is not a source of energy that [lawmakers] will have. They’re going to regulate it out of business. I think there’s a lot of blame to go around but this administration and Sen. Casey’s support for this administration have to take some of that blame."

"There are so many coal miners from where I come from who are losing their jobs," Smith said. "It’s just relentless."

"There have been 10,000 new pages of regulations put into the federal register since this administration came in, and a lot of them are on coal," Smith said.

Casey, who has gained criticism for voting with President Obama more than 90 percent of the time, voted on June 20 against legislation that would repeal the Utility MACT rule, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) clean-air regulation that has caused numerous shutdowns of coal-fired power plants across the country.

The Utility MACT gives coal-fired plants three years to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxins. Plants that fail to comply within three years, as adjudged by EPA officials, are immediately shut down.

The Utility MACT costs taxpayers $11 billion per year, according to EPA estimates. Insiders have said the rule’s costs are actually much higher, and have led to plant shutdowns and higher electricity costs for low-income families.

"The Utility MACT rule greatly diminishes demand for coal by effectively banning coal-fired power plants and causing the retirement of existing coal-fired power plants," said William Yeatman, energy policy expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Utility MACT is a major reason Alpha Natural Resources is reducing its thermal coal operations in both Appalachia and the Western United States, according to Yeatman.

"The Utility MACT rule is one of a series of regulations that don’t serve a purpose," Yeatman said.

"It’s a political measure. Barack Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board in 2008 when he was running for president that he would bankrupt coal. Why? Because coal is the enemy of the environmentalist groups that form part of his financial base."

Smith believes that coal will be a key issue in his Senate race.

"This war on coal is getting a lot of people involved in politics that have never been involved before, because the government is going after their livelihoods," Smith said. "A lot of Reagan Democrats are saying, ‘Let’s go back to the free enterprise system.’"

"The cornerstone to a strong economy is a reasonably priced energy source. In this country we have it and we’re not utilizing it," Smith said.

"I would have voted to get the EPA under control," Smith said. "Bob Casey didn’t."

"The coal industry has been cleaning up its business for years and rightly so," Smith said. "But they just keep putting more and more regulations on us. I dealt with the EPA firsthand, and they would just come in and force their mandates and it didn’t matter what the cost was. The cost now, sadly, is that people are losing jobs and electricity costs are going up for ratepayers."

Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin criticized the administration’s coal policies Tuesday, telling the Register-Herald that Alpha "can’t be expected to fight their own government."

"There's a balance to be found between the environment and the economy and the EPA has worked very hard to avoid finding that balance," Manchin said.

Neither the EPA nor Sen. Casey’s Washington office returned a request for comment.