New regs revived W.Ky. coal trade; contrary to Barr ad with coal exec

Coal company executive Heath Lovell and his wife, Lori, with presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Coal company executive Heath Lovell and his wife, Lori, with presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Voters in the Sixth Congressional District have every right to be insulted by Republican Andy Barr's ad in which a well-heeled coal executive, who has given $5,500 to Republicans this year, poses as a humble working man standing in an empty rail yard.

An official of the United Mine Workers of America called the spot "deceitful."

But really it's extraordinarily revealing, an example of what's frustrating Republicans from Mitt Romney on down: They want to appeal to average working people but don't seem to personally know any.

For this ad, Barr imported an ally from almost 300 miles and two or three congressional districts away to accuse Democrats, including incumbent Rep. Ben Chandler, of killing the coal industry with environmental regulation.

This is a perilous argument coming from anyone who works in coal in Western Kentucky, including the star of Barr's ad, Heath Lovell, of Morganfield, vice president of a subsidiary of Joe Craft's Tulsa-based Alliance Resource Partners.

Environmental regulation brought Western Kentucky's coal industry back to life.

Western Kentucky coal contains lots of sulfur, which causes acid rain. Requiring power plants to install scrubbers made it feasible for electrical utilities to once again buy coal from Western Kentucky and sparked a mining renaissance.

The Sixth District is on the edge of the Appalachian coalfield, but voters here still have a stake in coal policy.

Contrary to what Barr and a coal industry PR campaign would have you believe, protecting the environment is the best long-term hope for preserving a market for coal.

Just as requiring scrubbers on power plants restored high-sulfur coal as a viable commercial fuel, developing technologies for controlling heat-trapping emissions is the only way to protect coal in a climate-constrained future.

Both Chandler and Democratic President Barack Obama, who was a senator from the coal state of Illinois, have been bullish on investing in research and development that could keep coal viable while still addressing climate change and other environmental concerns.

With a few exceptions, such as Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, Republicans are just vowing to turn back the clock on environmental protection, even if it means further defiling the streams that make the Sixth District's water supply.

Chandler also has supported mine-safety legislation, which the industry doesn't like. Lovell managed an Alliance subsidiary that was cited in 2010 for two safety violations that led to the death of a miner.

In a political season when Romney's campaign has vowed it won't be bound by fact-checkers, voters should be extra vigilant.

We can at least be thankful no one thought to add a smudge of coal dust before the cameras rolled.