War on Coal Divides Dems

Obama climate plan ruffles feathers of coal country Dems

La Cygne Generating Station coal-fired power plant / AP
June 26, 2013

President Barack Obama’s plan to combat climate change by enacting punitive regulations on coal power plants has exposed deep divisions within the Democratic Party.

Observers say those divisions could be problematic for a party that is already facing tough electoral prospects in midterm congressional elections next year.

Labor union officials and Democratic legislators from coal-producing states have hammered the president for his plan, which experts say will have adverse economic consequences without meaningfully impacting the Earth’s climate.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.V.) on Wednesday said the plan amounts to a "war on America."

"They believe the world is still flat, that’s what we’re dealing with," Manchin said of supporters of the president’s plan who believe it will affect the Earth’s climate.

"Really, it is going to be a killer of jobs," Manchin insisted.

A spokesman for Sen. Sherrod Brown, a liberal Democrat from coal-rich Ohio, told the Washington Free Beacon that the senator believes it is "critical that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but we must do this in a way that creates Ohio jobs rather than puts them at risk."

Other senators similarly said that global warming should be addressed, but that the president’s plan goes about it the wrong way.

The Climate Action Plan "amplif[ies] the administration’s continuing war on coal and coal-fired power," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) in a news release.

"The administration continues developing regulations that do nothing more than choke off good-paying American jobs, and threatening millions of Americans with the loss of a reliable and affordable energy source," Heitkamp said.

Heitkamp, Manchin, and other centrist red state Democrats could face mounting pressure to oppose the president’s climate agenda as his Climate Action Plan nears implementation, said Republican strategist Rick Wilson.

"I'm eager to see the vulnerable red-state Democrats racing for the tall grass as Barack Obama's regulatory War on Energy kicks in, just as so many did on gun control," Wilson told the Free Beacon in an email.

The president’s proposal, Wilson noted, "is also driving a wedge with union workers who would love to help build the vast new energy economy in coal, natural gas and nuclear that his green fantasy will destroy."

The nation’s largest union representing coal miners blasted the plan in a Tuesday statement, saying it fails to consider the consequences of its anti-coal policies on the nation’s coal workers.

The proposal "contains many lofty goals but nothing that speaks to the hardship and suffering his plan would cause to the lives of coal miners, their families and others in the communities where they live," said Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America.

Roberts revealed that no one at the White House reached out to the union to discuss the president’s plan before it was unveiled on Tuesday.

James Taylor, senior fellow for environmental policy at the Heartland Institute, said Obama’s plan puts environmental interests above those of union workers.

"Mine workers will be particularly affected by Obama’s global warming restrictions," Taylor noted. "Coal power plants will soon be run out of business, killing mining jobs throughout the nation."

Organizing for Action, the shadowy liberal activist group that evolved from Obama’s reelection campaign, has pushed hard on the issue, despite these divisions and the public’s relative disinterest in public policy related to global warming.

"Americans aren't economically confident enough to happily stomach higher prices for electricity, for gas, and for food, all to satisfy the eco-fantasies of a sliver of Obama's base," Wilson said.