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Government and Politics

Political coal wars in Ohio
Both parties say they support coal jobs
This story is part of a special series.

Mark Urycki
Courtesy of Fishdecoy
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In The Region:

West Virginia voters register two-to-one as Democrats and yet the state is expected to support Mitt Romney in November.  One of the reasons is concern over coal mining jobs.  Romney is hoping to use the same issue to win over a far more important state: Ohio. 

WKSU’s Mark Urycki reports   

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Drive along I-77 in West Virginia and you’ll see the billboards accusing President Obama of waging a “war on coal.”   One maps out Ohio and five other states with the headline “ Obama No-Jobs Zone.”    One billboard include pictures of US senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and the president of the United Mine Workers, Cecil Roberts, in their rogues gallery.   At the Democratic National Convention,  President Obama was sure to give a nod to the industry. 

 “We’re offering a better path: a future where we keep investing in wind and solar and clean coal.”

The political battle over coal and environmental regulations goes back years but with the election looming, Republicans are jumping on it.  This week Ohio Congressman Bill Johnson, a Republican from Marietta, was on Fox TV blasting the Obama administration’s attempts to regulate runoff from coal mines.

The regulation Johnson referred to was a proposed return to a 1983 rule that prevented mine waste from being dumped into streams.  President George W. Bush eliminated the rule in his last month in office.  The Obama stream protection rules have still not gone into effect.  His restrictions on pollution from coal-fired power plants have and that has coal mine owners warning of job losses in Ohio and other mining states.  This week the Alpha Natural Resources mining company announced 1200 layoffs, although none in Ohio.

Last month Mitt Romney campaigned at a mine in Bealsville Ohio, owned by Murray Energy of Pepper Pike.   He was joined by Republican Senate candidate John Mandel ans U.S. Senator Rob Portman. This week the Romney began running commercials in eastern Ohio that were filmed at the rally.  It includes with shots of miners standing behind the candidate.    But the ad is getting pushback from Democrats. They say the non-union workers at the Bealsville mine were forced to attend that rally.    The CFO of Murray Energy, Rob Moore,  put it this way in a radio interview in West Virginia   

“We had managers that communicated that the attendance was mandatory,” but no one was forced to attend the event.”

The workers were not paid to attend, said Moore, because that would violate election laws. 

And many miners are harsh critics of Mr. Obama.  But with higher prices for coal due to foreign demand, employment in coal mining is at its highest level since the Clinton administration.   Ed Goode, a Democratic activist and township trustee in Southeast Ohio’s Belmont County, said the miners aren’t all voting Republican

"Under the Obama administration production is up 7% and fatalities in the mines are at an all time low...Although there is this perceived war on coal and it's not true.  

Democrats say any layoffs at the mines this year were caused not by regulations but by the low prices for one of Ohio’s other natural resources, natural gas.  But no matter what threatens coal jobs, it may be gold for Republican votes.  


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