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McCain No Friend of Coal (op-ed)

date: 
September 23, 2008
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McCain no friend of coal

Published in Charleston Daily Mail, Sept. 23, 2008

By Cecil E. Roberts, International President, United Mine Workers of America

John McCain sure surprised a lot of people when he came out the other day against mountaintop removal mining. You could almost hear the backpedaling and side-stepping going on in coal operators’ boardrooms and Republican party headquarters all the way up Cabin Creek. They thought they had a friend of coal in John McCain, only to find out that maybe he wasn’t so friendly after all.

It should have come as no surprise. John McCain has been on the attack against the coal industry for years, starting with legislation he proposed in 2003–Senate Bill 139, the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003–that would have just about wiped out the coal industry in southern West Virginia and elsewhere in Appalachia.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released an analysis of S. 139 in May, 2004, which said the reductions in coal production under the McCain legislation was estimated to be 78 percent by 2025. Since it takes coal miners to produce coal, that would mean a drastic reduction in employment, most of which would have fallen heavily on more labor-intensive mines like we have in Appalachia, especially West Virginia.

But Sen. McCain was just getting warmed up. He teamed up with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) just last year and proposed climate change legislation–Senate Bill 280–that once again took a meat-axe approach to Appalachian coal. In that bill, McCain specifically targeted Appalachian coal production for cuts of 30 percent or more, while encouraging production of coal from Wyoming, according to an analysis done of the legislation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

During the current campaign, both candidates have proposed a variety of solutions to dealing with energy issues. They both say that they want to reduce reliance on foreign sources of energy and build an infrastructure in America that relies on a mix of sources to meet the ever-expanding energy needs of our nation, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gases. The UMWA agrees that we need to do that.

But the devil is in the details, and once again Sen. McCain doesn’t measure up when it comes to the potential for coal–our nation’s most abundant energy resource–to continue to be the major contributor to meeting our future energy needs.

The lynchpin of McCain’s energy plan is to build 45 new nuclear plants across America by 2025, the first wave of 100 new nuclear plants he foresees. The negative impact on coal production and jobs from these plants will be extremely significant. And let’s face it–no matter what happens with respect to climate change over the next 50 to 100 years, the waste generated by a nuclear plant tomorrow will still be deadly to all life 10,000 years from now. Our distant descendants will likely be worrying about staying warm during the next ice age about then.

With the coming development of clean coal technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS), America is on the brink of being able to use coal to generate energy without contributing any more greenhouse gases to the environment. Sen. McCain pays lip service to CCS, but the record shows that coal has a very limited future in John McCain’s vision of America. And that’s a direct threat to tens of thousands of West Virginia families.

Sen. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is from a coal state and clearly understands the long-term role coal can play in our nation’s energy future. He has pledged to fund development of CCS technology so that it can be deployed as soon as possible. He has said that America is the “Saudi Arabia of coal” and that we ought to be working as hard as we can to figure out how to use it for decades to come.

So the choice for coal miners, their families, their neighbors and everyone living in the coalfield communities throughout Appalachia and especially in West Virginia is clear. Barack Obama is for the long-term future of your job and John McCain is not. Keep that in mind when you vote on Nov. 4.

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