The top Democrats running for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania have come out in support of reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, but have been silent on whether they back the bank’s restrictions on financing coal-fired power plants.
Both Joe Sestak and more recently Katie McGinty have urged the reauthorization of the bank, putting them in stark opposition to the man they hope to face in 2016, Sen. Patrick Toomey (R., Pa.), who led the charge in getting the Senate to let the bank expire.
Some Republicans who wanted to keep the bank around worked with Democrats from coal-producing states on legislation that would reauthorize the bank but strip it of restrictive guidelines that hurt the coal industry.
Democrats such as Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.V.) worked to strip the bank of its anti-coal restrictions. The bill, however, was labeled a "dirty reauthorization" by green groups and was opposed by the White House, which said it "would hinder implementation of the president’s Climate Action Plan."
Neither the Sestak or McGinty campaign responded to requests to clarify their stances on the bank’s coal restrictions.
Pennsylvania is among the top five coal-producing states in the United States, and Ex-Im’s restrictions on the industry were a major reason for Toomey’s opposition to its existence.
"Restrictions were put in place to prohibit financing to industries that have been demonized like coal-fired power plants, which perversely limits export opportunities for Pennsylvania coal miners," wrote Toomey in an op-ed, arguing that the coal restrictions were proof that the bank had become "a creature of politics."
The senior policy director for Freedom Partners, a group that opposes the Ex-Im Bank, said the administration’s coal restrictions were a perfect example of how the bank’s money is used to tilt the scales toward politically favored industries.
"President Obama’s insistence on coal restrictions shows exactly how the Ex-Im Bank is used to distort the market and tilt the scales towards politically favored, well-connected industries," said Andy Koenig of Freedom Partners.
While the Ex-Im Bank was cutting off funds to coal facilities, it was increasing funding for solar panel facilities such as Solyndra, which took in $10 million before it collapsed. Ten percent of the bank’s funding goes to the renewable energy industry.
McGinty called on Toomey to reverse course on the Ex-Im Bank last week during an event at General Electric, a top ten recipient of the banks funds.
The company has been accused of instructing lawmakers to publicly blame the closures of GE plants on Congress’ failure to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank. It also blamed the lack of Ex-Im Bank funds for its decision to move 1,000 jobs overseas, even though the move would have been made regardless of what happened in Congress.
McGinty called the Ex-Im Bank "an essential lifeline to good manufacturing jobs" in Pennsylvania during the GE event.
A study by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, however, found that "the Ex-Im Bank yields negligible benefits for the vast majority of state exports."
Pennsylvania was no exception. Just 2.1 percent of the state’s total exports from 2007 to 2014 were backed by Ex-Im Bank financing, according to the study.
"While businesses in most states barely benefit from the Ex-Im Bank at all, their taxpayers are just as exposed to Ex-Im Bank liabilities as taxpayers in states that receive the most Ex-Im Bank backing," the study concluded.
It has also been argued that Ex-Im Bank subsidies hurt Pennsylvania businesses through subsidies going to competitors in the state’s top industries.
Toomey will not be "reversing course" on the Ex-Im Bank despite McGinty’s call, and his campaign says that voters should be "worried" about any candidate who supports its reauthorization.
"Voters should be very worried about any candidate who says he or she wants to go to Washington to pick corporate winners and losers at the expense of taxpayers, and that’s exactly what the Ex-Im Bank does," said Steve Kelly, a Toomey campaign spokesman.