McAuliffe’s Claim Jump on Coal

Coal has Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe split between the interests of the North and South.

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The Richmond Times-Dispatch/Joe Mahoney

Virginia gubernatorial hopefuls Republican Ken Cuccinelli, left, and Democrat Terry McAuliffe at a luncheon sponsored by the Virginia Public Access Project, Thursday, May 30, 2013 in Richmond, Va.

President Obama’s climate speech Tuesday received a mixed reaction, to say the least. According to eco-warrior Al Gore, it was “by far the best address on climate by any president ever.” To others, including Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), it was a “War on Coal.”

To Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, it was a squeeze.

In 2009 during his first run for governor, McAuliffe said, “I want to move past coal. As governor, I never want another coal plant build.” After Obama’s speech, his press secretary Josh Schwerin said, “Terry believes any new regulations should balance the need to encourage clean energy with the fact that coal is, and will continue to be, a large portion of Virginia’s energy mix.”

McAuliffe now faces a dilemma. Northern Virginia won’t like his move away from Obama’s position, and southern Virginia won’t see his evolution towards coal as strong enough, particularly if Cuccinelli is successful in framing McAuliffe’s position.

There are some indicators that coal shouldn’t matter that much in Virginia. In the most recent data available, the Energy Information Administration reports that the Virginia coal industry employed 5,261 workers in 2011, and in 2010, only 371 active union workers.

But directly equating workers to votes is the wrong way of thinking, according to Virginia Democratic political strategist Dave “Mudcat” Saunders. “Coal is a culture. You understand what I’m saying? It’s been with us for a long time,” says Mudcat. “The Democrats don’t look at it like that, as a culture. They look at it as a commodity.” When asked how McAuliffe is going to do in the southwestern part of the state, which produces almost all of Virginia’s coal, Mudcat said, “He’s going to get killed out here.”

McAuliffe’s evolution on the issue is a nod to the coal community, which despite their small numbers is remarkably important to the country. The Norfolk, Virginia customs district accounted for 45% of America’s exported coal in March, helping set the monthly record for U.S. coal exports since at least 1980, according to the EIA. While Norfolk itself is blue, the surrounding coal producing counties tend to be deep crimson.

For Virginia coal, reaching out to the south alienates the north. “In Northern Virginia, any work that Terry McAuliffe is in odds with Obama is going to keep Democrats at home,” says Mudcat. “The reason that Barack Obama does so well in Virginia and can win elections is because…3 out of 4 people turn out to vote.”

Cuccinelli’s campaign recognizes this. Anna Nix, spokesman for the Cuccinelli campaign, released a statement Thursday: “Terry McAuliffe and President Obama’s War on Coal is more than just an attack on the Commonwealth’s heritage and the livelihoods of the people of Southwest Virginia…the President’s plan will raise electricity rates for consumers and that affects all Virginians.”

(Obama’s climate change speech Tuesday twice mentioned coal. First, Obama called for “An end of public financing for new coal plants overseas, unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies, or there’s no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity.” Second, Obama said that the Department of Defense, the largest energy consumer in America, will install “3 gigawatts of renewable power on its bases, generating about the same amount of electricity each year as you’d get from burning 3 million tons of coal.”

Republicans have latched onto a statement not by Obama, but one of his scientific advisors, Daniel P. Schrag, a geochemist who is the head of Harvard University’s Center for the Environment.  “The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants,” Schrag told the New York Times. “Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”)

After Obama’s speech, Schwerin, preempted the attack: “Terry would be seriously concerned about regulations that would significantly increase utility costs for Virginians or result in the closure of existing Virginia power plants.”

Neither Cuccinelli or McAuliffe has detailed their position on coal. When I asked the McAuliffe campaign what McAuliffe’s position was on coal subsidies and renewable tax credits, an aide sent me to a WUSA9 Cuccinelli interview. In it, Cuccinelli says the $20 million coal industry subsidy is “absolutely on the list” for elimination under his tax plan.

On his website, Cuccinelli states that he would “support development of a wide range of alternative and clean power options, including nuclear, wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, without relying on government subsides, and encourage research in clean coal technology.” When asked to elaborate how Cuccinelli would support all of these energy options without subsidies, spokeswoman Anna Nix told TIME that Cuccinelli’s plan “would streamline the government permitting process to allow companies with new technology to become operational faster and more efficiently.”

Cuccinelli and McAuliffe are now searching for the same coal dollars. Cuccinelli released his energy plan in Bristol, Virginia, a town in the southwest of the state near the North Carolina border. Bristol houses the Alpha Natural Resources headquarters, a multibillion-dollar coal production company that has given thousands of dollars to Virginia politicians, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and former Republican Sen. George Allen, according to Open Secrets. McAuliffe has also campaigned in Bristol and met with ANA.

Cuccinelli isn’t totally in the clear in southwestern Virginia. Earlier this month a federal judge found that an assistant attorney general has been assisting two natural gas companies that are being sued by landowners who allege that the companies shirked them out of millions of dollars in royalties. One of the companies is a subsidiary of Consol Energy, which has given over $85,000 to Cuccinelli’s campaign.

The War on Coal has become quite a dirty business indeed.

8 comments
sacredh
sacredh

The Good Lord put coal into the earth for us to burn. It's cheap and plentiful. It provides jobs for hard working Americans and if clean energy was so good, why didn't God put solar panels in the ground for us to use?

Randomarrow
Randomarrow

"except for CO2 which has been erroneously blamed for changing climate"

Come on Bruce, a simple kitchen table experiment will prove you are wrong.

Take two flasks, two one hole rubber stoppers, two identical thermometers that fit the holes in the flask and a small piece of dry ice (frozen CO2

Put an inch of water in each flask. Drop the dry ice in one. That will be our CO2 flask. When the dry ice has bubbled away stopper both flasks and put them in the sun. Record the temperatures hourly in each flask during sunlight and after the sun sets. The difference between the air flask and the CO2 flask is climate change my friend.

terryclifton1
terryclifton1

What will happen to local economies in the coal producing counties across Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia; if Obama and friends win their War on Coal? The poverty rates in those counties are already some of the highest in the nation. Whole towns will dry up, and businesses will leave the area for good; hospitals will close, and those left to poor to move will live out their lives in a black hole. Cities like Charleston, WV, Kingsport, TN, Ashland, KY, will lose millions in tax dollars, and the unemployment rates will be close to 50-60%. Who speaks for those people? Terry McAuliffe, just like Obama did during the last election, he will pander to the folks, swear that coal is a vital need for our nation, and then once elected, he will turn his backs on the folks. The UMWA almost got it this last time around, but came out in support of Obama, and now look at what their support got them...

BruceHall
BruceHall

Coal is dirty, no doubt about it.  I grew up in a time when most homes that were not heated by wood were heated by coal furnaces. During the winter, the snow always had a layer of black soot.  When natural gas became widely available, the environment improved significantly.  But concentrated burning of coal in power generating plants equipped with modern scrubbers has eliminated most of the pollution associated with the burning except for CO2 which has been erroneously blamed for changing climate.  Fine; make the mistake of destroying half of our electrical power generating base, but be eager to expand fracking for producing needed natural gas to replace coal energy.

The problem with most environmental activist politicians is that they look for the latest fashionable bandwagon upon which to plant their political flag... without regard to the economic and unintended consequences.

voteemallout
voteemallout

@BruceHall    if the power companies had not resisted installing scrubbers for 20 years they would be in a better position. 

sacredh
sacredh

We were granted the intelligence to invent them, so I use them.