Saving dwindling coal jobs crucial in countering Obama's war on coal

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. Herald-Leader

The Herald-Leader published an editorial attacking me for criticizing the Obama administration's latest attack on Kentucky coal families.

I wish the editorial board had chosen to take the issue more seriously, rather than just run another tired anti-McConnell piece.

Because this is a serious issue affecting our state; some mountain coal counties have already suffered with unemployment rates over 15 percent, and more than 27,000 Kentuckians have written to me on coal since President Barack Obama took office.

So, let's first acknowledge the obvious: It's by now basically beyond dispute that the Obama administration and its allies in the Senate Democrat leadership are no friends of Kentucky coal miners.

From candidate Obama's candid comments about bankrupting coal plants to a White House climate advisor's claim that a "war on coal is exactly what's needed," the kind of rhetoric coming out of Washington Democrats is anything but supportive of a resource that employs so many Kentuckians — and provides Kentucky with historically low electric rates.

And it's not just rhetorical. In his first term, the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried — and failed— to force through Congress cap-and-tax legislation that would have devastated our state. Ever since, the president has tried to push similar anti-coal regulations through the back door.

The latest of these is what we saw last month, which the head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union said would effectively "stop the construction of new coal-fired power plants," and "threaten economic growth and America's energy future."

We expect even more radical regulations in just another year or two that could send more of our coal workers to the unemployment line.

Now, Kentuckians are sophisticated enough to understand that it's not just these regulations that caused Kentucky coal jobs to plummet from 18,600 the year Obama took office to just 13,000 today. But a lot of our coal country devastation is, in fact, due to these regulations. And Kentuckians expect Washington leaders to stand by their side when they're hurting, not pile on.

But piling on is just what the Obama administration is doing.

So, I asked Congress to pass the Saving Coal Jobs Act: legislation that would streamline the permitting process for new coal mines and require the Environmental Protection Agency to secure approval from Congress before issuing more carbon emission standards. It's hard to see why anyone would oppose such a common-sense bill.

But, unfortunately, that's just what Reid did. He prevented the Senate from passing the legislation, presumably to continue protecting the Obama administration in its crusade against coal.

Well, despite the obstructionism, I'm not going to stop fighting. And I'm going to continue pushing the majority leader to allow the Senate to try and overturn the recently issued EPA regulations too.

At the same time, I'm going to continue fighting in other ways for struggling miners and their families in Eastern Kentucky.

For instance, I played a key role in passage of last year's federal highway bill, ensuring that Kentuckians receive a fair share of funds that directly benefit transportation infrastructure in our mountain counties.

And, more importantly, earlier this year, I worked with the Department of Labor to help secure training assistance for thousands of laid-off coal miners in need of new employment opportunities. That grant is already helping hundreds of miners in Eastern Kentucky learn new skills, and we expect many more to benefit from it in the months and years to come.

But what many Kentuckians really want are the good-paying jobs that only coal can provide.

To paraphrase a recent song on the topic, coal is what keeps the lights on, the kids clothed and the family fed. And that's why I'm going to keep fighting.

Remember: Republicans believe in an all-of-the-above energy strategy. Washington Democrats used to say they believed in that too.

All-of-the-above means utilizing all sources — natural gas and wind, North American oil and solar, Kentucky coal and switchgrass — to move America toward a cleaner and more independent energy future.

And we'll get there too. But first, Washington Democrats have to stop myopically obsessing over one or two politically correct sources while beating up on hard-working coal miners.

Because coal lights our homes, it powers manufacturing, and it creates good jobs for Kentuckians.

At issue: Sept. 20 Herald-Leader editorial, "McConnell's spiel offers no hope; E. Ky. ready for a real jobs plan"