Interviews with swing-state voters: The Democrat who thinks Obama has sold out coal

November 3, 2012

(Darren Hauck/Reuters)

From now until election day, Wonkblog will be interviewing voters from swing states about how they’re thinking about the election. We will be interviewing both decided and undecided voters from both parties. We thank The Washington Post/ABC News poll and Public Policy Polling for putting us in touch with these voters. You can see the rest of the interviews here.

John Lotterio, 63, is a registered Democrat who lives in Latrobe, Pa. He voted for Obama in 2008 but is supporting Romney this time around.

Why are you voting for Romney?

It's mainly because of what Obama's doing on coal. He's killing people over energy by bottling over all the sources of energy, other than green energy. I saw on TV he said that if you want to invest in coal, go ahead, but you’re going to go bankrupt. What kind of attitude is that from that guy?

There’s a lot of people in PA hurting. Electric bills are up 40-50 percent, they’re shutting down electric power coal plants, and there's probably four in a 50-mile radius of where I live. When you start to curb supply, price goes up, because demand won’t go down.

What do you think Obama's motivation for cracking down on coal is?

It’s probably tied all in to the climate warming thing and his desire to go into alternative sources of energy, which I’m in no way against. But it’s all got to be proportionate to invest in. Look at the electric car. It’s supposed to save energy but it goes, what, an hour and then you have to recharge it? Natural gas, we’ve got a ton of it right underneath us and I don’t think he’s doing anything to help that.

So you support fracking? I know that's a big deal in Pennsylvania.

Yeah, there’s a lot of it going in our area. I think there are cases where it might hurt well water, because that stuff gets in the well water. I don’t think fracking really hurts anything unless it’s being done near a well. Somebody leasing their land and then their well gets ruined I don’t know what to say about that. They should have known better.

Any other issues where Obama has disappointed you?

Letting Bernanke go on and just create fiat currency. I don’t think he’s doing any good for the dollar. He’s keeping interest rates low, but isn’t the law of averages that if it’s below normal, it’s going to be above normal at some point? The banks all got more cash than they know what to do with, but they’re unable to lend it to anybody. You got a lot of electronic money sitting around that’s not helping anybody.

That’s the two biggest things I see. Letting the Federal Reserve do whatever they want to do, and then stifling energy production.

Did you back Obama last time around?

I didn’t support McCain. I don’t care for that guy. He was a bad candidate from the beginning.

Why didn't you like McCain?

He was, I recall at the time, I don’t think he had a full grasp on what was going on. He was, I don’t know, I just didn’t care for him. It’s hard to put a reason on it.

What about the Pennsylvania Senate race? Are you backing [Democratic incumbent] Bob Casey or Tom Smith?

Casey's all right. He’s been around, he’s got a good name. He’s been okay. I don’t know much about that Smith guy. At least I had the opportunity to meet Bob Casey once or twice, but I don’t think he’s done much to hurt us. The polls seem close but I think there’s a lot of people who just aren’t saying they’re going to support Casey, but they’ll vote for him.

What do you make of Obamacare?

From what I’ve heard about it, I think it’s going to drive up our costs more from where we’re at now. I own a small company but it’s three owners and three employees, we’re not talking real big. But I anticipate our premiums are going to jump up another 30-40 percent. But I could be wrong because I’m only going off what I read in the paper. I don’t know whether that’s going to improve care. I don’t know about Medicare, I’m not at that point yet in my life, so I haven’t looked at that in detail.

Have you applied for the small business tax credit in Obamacare?

No.

What does your business do?

It’s an advertising agency. We’re small, locally based. The ironic thing is we work for a lot of Democrat candidates, we do media campaigns for Democrats. From my position, I see a lot of the guys that we work for in the Pennsylvania state legislature distance themselves from Obama in our area. I think Obamacare is one of the big reasons, and coal, his energy policy. People are really mad around here. There are a lot of signs that say “Support coal, fire Obama.” There are a lot of people who distance themselves.

Let's go back to coal. A lot of scientists say that global warming, which is not unrelated to coal, contributes to disasters like Hurricane Sandy. What do you make of that?

I’m no expert but it seems to me that owners of power plants have done everything they could to wash the coal, to keep whatever metals and particles from getting into the atmosphere. You read articles from time to time about investments these power plants make to try to reduce that. I think you can burn coal and keep the atmosphere clean. I’m not an expert but that’s my opinion. I have friends in the coal business who say, “China will buy any coal we’re selling. If the U.S. won't use it we'll ship it to China.” They don’t seem to be worried about global warming. I think power plants can run clean. I think they’ve attempted to make the investments.

Just to play devil's advocate, some environmentalists argue that coal plants will only make those investments if we make it more expensive not to, to keep burning coal in a way that hurts the environment.

That’s probably a true statement. Again, I’m not an expert. But dirty coal, high sulfur content I believe what they claim that is, sometimes that’s the only stuff we have available. I don’t know. I really shouldn’t answer a question I’m not familiar with. Can the government really make that coal more expensive? Isn’t it just supply and demand? They can say, “You can’t burn it because you don’t have the controls and it’s going to take millions and millions to get that equipment.” And then they make the decision, we’ll do it or we’ll shut it down, and they’re tending to shut it down.

Any last thoughts?

I like Obama. A lot of people like him. He’s not a bad guy. He’s a very nice guy and I really respect him for the way he’s dealing with terrorism. He’s more no-nonsense on terrorism than I ever thought he’d be. But on coal, you’re squeezing your constituency. You’re putting them in a bad position.

The whole country runs on energy. It turns the turbine of the economy, whether it comes from coal or oil or natural gas or solar power or whatever. If you’re cutting off one form or making it more difficult, you’re driving up everyone’s costs.

I can only imagine trying to live with solar energy here in Pennsylvania. For the hell of it I asked a guy who worked for West End Power, he's a geologist. I asked, "What would it take to do solar investment?" He said, "John, the only thing you’d do is heat your water, and that’d cost $4,000, but you’re not going to get enough to power your house." When you look at it from that perspective, it’d be nice to get hot water from solar power, but I have a $59 a month natural gas plan which gets my water, my heat and my power, so why am I going to go into solar? It doesn't make economic sense."

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Brad Plumer · November 3, 2012