Politics & Government

Campaign Watchdog: Claim that Chandler responsible for coal job losses false

The Herald-Leader will routinely check the accuracy of statements made by candidates and their surrogates leading up to the Nov. 6 election.

The statement: "Obama, Ben Chandler and EPA: 2,000 coal jobs lost this year."

— TV ad for Andy Barr

The ruling: False

The facts: Andy Barr, a Lexington lawyer, is the Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, in the Nov. 6 election.

In his ad, Barr's campaign alleges that Chandler is destroying the coal industry.

"Obama, Ben Chandler and the EPA are destroying us. They're putting the coal industry out of business — and it's just devastating," Heath Lovell, vice president of River View Coal, says in the ad.

Driving home the point as Lovell talks, text on the screen reads, "Obama, Ben Chandler and EPA: 2,000 coal jobs lost this year." That's a reference to an estimated 2,000 mining layoffs in Eastern Kentucky as of June.

In an email this week, Barr campaign spokesman David Host said Chandler is responsible for the lost jobs because he politically supports President Barack Obama, a fellow Democrat. Obama's Environmental Protection Agency is enforcing laws and regulations in ways that impede coal mining and burning, Host said.

However, energy experts and business analysts say the coal industry's current slump can be attributed mostly to historically low prices for natural gas and unseasonably warm weather last winter, which left power plants with coal stockpiles. Other factors, such as the slow recovery in national manufacturing and the broader economy, also led to weak coal demand, they say.

“Current market forces were the prime driver” in the layoffs, Michael Tian, an analyst with Morningstar, told the Herald-Leader in July. The May price for natural gas was 43 percent lower than just a year earlier, the Herald-Leader reported at the time.

Market forces do not favor coal in the long run, either, experts say.

Energy giant ExxonMobil released a study last winter predicting that natural gas would replace coal as the leading fuel source for electricity in the United States because gas is more easily available and burns more cleanly. In April, the national share of electricity generated using natural gas matched coal’s share — 32 percent — for the first time since the U.S. Energy Information Agency began keeping track in 1973.

Chandler, a congressman in his chamber's minority party, has little influence over market forces.

Host also said Chandler should be held responsible for voting against the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, which would have restricted the EPA's authority to protect water quality. However, that bill stalled in the Senate after the House passed it in July 2011. There is no indication the bill will become law, and it is difficult to predict what economic effect it would have if it did.

Many in the coal industry blame Obama's EPA for implementing or proposing stronger pollution rules that are prompting the retirement of coal-fired power plants, reducing demand for coal. The National Mining Association blames "the uncertainty" of federal regulations for helping to make coal less attractive.

However, the president and his executive appointees, such as the EPA administrator, decide the regulations, not Chandler. To the extent that the Republican-led House can protest Obama's environmental regulations by attempting to curb the EPA's powers, it's already doing so, without much visible effect.

Campaign Watchdog finds Barr's ad to be false because market forces, not Chandler, led to the elimination of 2,000 coal jobs in Eastern Kentucky this year.