Yes, Mitch McConnell Is Killing Coal

Bill Scher

In Alison Lundergan Grimes’ losing campaign, she ran an ad that made one of the most insightful points of any ad in the 2014 midterm elections. Standing in front of a coal-fired power plant Grimes said, “They are shutting down half the plant and laying off their workers because [Senate Republican leader] Mitch McConnell didn’t fight to get the scrubbers it needs to reduce coal emissions.”

The ad didn’t get attention for that line. It got attention for a trumped-up, and contradictory, charge that followed, that “Mitch and his wife pocketed $600,000 from enemies of coal.” Most of the money came from McConnell’s wife serving on the board of a bank that made a decision five years prior to her arrival to cut back on its financing of mountaintop removals. Claiming that McConnell was a secret environmentalist was a factually flawed charge that fell flat.

But the beginning of the ad was truthful and highly relevant. What would have gotten the Kentucky plant those scrubbers was the 2009 House “cap-and-trade” bill, which would have capped carbon emissions while providing subsidies to coal plants to help them stay within the caps. Grimes, of course, didn’t bother to connect those “cap-and-trade” dots in the ad.

Grimes understandably didn’t want to risk embracing the carbon cap bill hated in coal country. But considering she ended up losing by 16 points anyway, maybe it would have been worth explaining to Kentucky voters that without legislation that helps coal transition to a low-carbon economy, there will eventually be no coal jobs at all.

Instead, the victorious McConnell is continuing to serve his state’s coal industry poorly.

After President Obama announcing a deal with China to jointly reduce emissions, McConnell dumped on it, saying, “it requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years while these carbon emission regulations are creating havoc in my state.”

It’s true that the agreement is more of a handshake than a legally binding treaty. But neither the natural gas boom that is crowding out coal, nor the worldwide push for lower emissions, is going away. China is choking on pollution and has to cut emissions to survive. The world is moving and Kentucky is standing still, because McConnell is keeping Kentucky stagnant.

if McConnell wants stiffer requirements on China and less havoc in his state, he is in a position to do two things:

Announce he would have his party ratify any climate treaty that requires developing countries to limit their carbon emissions along with us. And support carbon cap legislation that would subsidize the technological upgrades for coal plants.

Until he does that, he is the one killing coal.

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