The president of the United Mine Workers of America says Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell needs to explain why his wife joined the board of a group seeking to eliminate coal from the country’s energy diet.
On Friday, Yahoo News reported that McConnell’s wife, former labor secretary Elaine Chao, is a board member of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which provided a $50-million grant to the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” initiative.
Chao joined the group in 2012, a year after it announced it was funding a four-year environmental campaign to “move the country from coal to clean energy.”
Last weekend, the UMWA endorsed McConnell’s Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes. The union also voiced concern when Sierra Club initiative was announced three years ago.
UMWA President Cecil E. Roberts said Chao is free to join whatever board she chooses, but he was critical of her involvement with Bloomberg Philanthropies.
“One has to wonder just where Sen. McConnell is with respect to this, and whether he supports his wifeâs continued service on the board of this organization, one whose actions have already cost thousands of coal miners in Kentucky and elsewhere their jobs,” Roberts said in a released statement.
Among the goals of “Beyond Coal” is to eliminate one-third of coal powered-plants by 2020 and move to clean energy.
McConnell is a finishing up a two-day bus tour of Eastern Kentucky and his campaign responded to the Yahoo News story by calling for an unspecified correction and slamming it as a “hit piece” on his wife.
Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett, who has defended McConnell’s record in Washington, declined WFPL’s request for an interview.
“I believe it is important to recognize that Bloomberg’s contribution was made well before Secretary Elaine Chao began her service as a board member of Bloomberg Philanthropies in April 2012,” Bissett said in a released statement.
“Since Chao joined the board, (former New York Mayor Michael) Bloomberg has made public statements demonstrating that he now understands that his actions against coal are hurting people.”
In 2012, when Chao was a paid board member, Bloomberg Philanthropies gave $25 million toward the “Beyond Coal” campaign, according to a document obtained by WFPL.
“As to Senator McConnell’s position regarding Kentucky coal, I can say with great confidence that he and his staff have done everything possible to protect coal production and usage in Kentucky, but their many efforts have been and continue to be blocked by the current leader of the United States Senate, Senator Harry Reid,” said Bissett.
Bissett added he believes Michael Bloomberg’s personal position is beginning to soften on coal after holding a fundraiser for Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia last year. Manchin is considered one of the strongest advocates for coal mining in the Senate.
Reports of the July 2013 fundraiser point more to Bloomberg and Manchin’s agreement on expanding gun background checks than coal production.
Roberts said Bloomberg Philanthropies actions funded one of the largest attacks on coal and coal miners jobs.
“I think most people in Appalachia who rely on the coal industry to make their living agreed with me in 2011 that the actions of Bloomberg Philanthropies were an attack on the industry and the people who work in it,” he said.