There is more than coal burning in America’s coal fields these days, and that anger could have an effect on November’s elections in coal-producing swing states such as Virginia. As coal companies idle mines and lay off workers, energy policy has become a hot topic in the U.S. Senate race between former governors Timothy M. Kaine (D) and George Allen (R).
On a campaign swing through southwest Virginia last month, Allen tried to capitalize on the resentment against Washington. He blamed the Obama administration for a growing number of mine closures and layoffs, and highlighted Kaine’s support for the cap-and-trade approach to limiting greenhouse gases, which scientists say have contributed to global warming. Allen also reminded listeners of Kaine’s close ties to the president as he argued that the Environmental Protection Agency has been using regulations to try to accomplish what the Obama administration failed to enact through Congress.
“These EPA regulations are, in effect, banning coal,” Allen told workers at a Tazewell County firm that manufactures electronic equipment used in mining.
But Kaine fired back this month with a TV ad showing him in a helicopter circling above the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, a new coal-fired power plant in Wise County. As governor, Kaine endorsed the Dominion-owned plant and cites it as proof of his support for using “clean” coal to meet America’s power needs.
On the campaign trail, Kaine also boasts of having adopted the state’s first comprehensive energy plan, which sought to achieve a balance between coal, nuclear, natural gas, wind and biofuels. He reminds people that as governor, he kept an open mind on the possibility of drilling for oil off Virginia’s shore.
Kaine said he understands the historical importance of coal and its future potential as technology reduces its impact on the planet. But he is also a believer in green energy that can produce jobs such as those at a General Electric plant in Salem where 700 workers build components for wind turbines and solar arrays.
“A third of new power in this country since 2007 that’s come online has been wind power,” Kaine said during a visit to Bristol’s Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival this month.
Kaine also argues that, unlike Allen, he thinks the United States must cut carbon emissions and promote renewable energy. Kaine said that Allen can’t see beyond fossil fuels.
“My opponent will battle tooth and nail . . .
to fight for subsidies for big oil companies and ridicule wind and solar,” Kaine said.