Herald-Leader Editorial

Don't base vote on who loves coal: Senate candidates are financed by many who don't

June 11, 2014 

Pity the poor Kentucky voter, slogging through the 30-second spots, trying to sort out who is coal's friendliest friend, as both U.S. Senate candidates fall all over each other pledging their troth to the black rock.

How to decide?

The Kentucky Coal Association laid out a possible marker when it warned Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes not to accept a campaign contribution from a California hedge fund billionaire who is working to avert global warming and promote renewable energy.

Pro-coal voters could take that cue from the industry and assess the candidates on their funding sources — except that strictly graded on that measure, both flunk.

Grimes received $1,000 from the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which wants to limit coal-fired power to reduce heat-trapping gases and harmful pollution.

But, as the Herald-Leader's John Cheves reported in Sunday's paper, Grimes' anti-coal haul is peanuts next to the mountain of money raked in by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

All kinds of interests that gain from coal's pain have given to McConnell. Natural gas, nuclear and renewable-energy backers have anted up. The American Gas Association threw him a $1,000-a-plate dinner.

The best way to restore coal's competitiveness would be congressional regulation of fracking, the controversial drilling technique behind the shale gas boom. The best reason to regulate fracking is protection of the environment and human health, but it would also erase some of natural gas' price advantage as a power plant fuel.

Why is neither candidate calling for tighter rules on drilling? Could it be they fear shutting off the oil and gas industry's cash pipeline?

McConnell also took $2,000 from Dallas entrepreneur David Litman, a Republican who has pushed to block construction of new coal-fired power plants.

Litman espouses the notion that a healthy environment is good for business, a view that is spreading as companies calculate the costs of extreme weather. Such worries also have spurred a divestment movement that is restricting the flow of capital to coal companies.

Stanford University claims 31 Nobel laureates. Yet Grimes saw fit to send a letter scolding Stanford for its recent decision to eliminate stocks in coal mining companies from its $18.7 billion endowment

Wells Fargo, the multinational banking company, has ceased financing coal companies that do mountaintop removal, a category that includes most Eastern Kentucky operators. Wells Fargo also has a policy against financing "coal-power plants on a stand-alone basis."

What should interest Kentucky voters, as LEO Weekly's Joe Sonka recently reported, is that McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, a former U.S. labor secretary, is a Wells Fargo director. Chao has received $684,000 in compensation from Wells Fargo since 2011, according to proxy statements. Wonder if the Kentucky Coal Association will demand that McConnell divorce her?

McConnell's camp makes much of the 7,000 coal jobs that Kentucky has lost since Democrat Barack Obama became president. In the time that McConnell has been in the Senate, Kentucky has lost more than 27,000 coal industry jobs.

The outcome of this election will not alter that steeply downward trend in coal jobs, no matter how much Kentuckians might yearn to turn back the clock.

What voters should demand from McConnell and Grimes is a vision and a plan for the future — and an end to the intelligence-insulting pandering over coal.

Not to be harsh, but Kentuckians who vote for U.S. senator on the basis of coal will be dupes.

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