Environment
7:52 am
Tue September 18, 2012

Coal and the Presidential Election

In some states, the 2012 presidential election is turning into a race of who can support coal more.

That's not really in Kentucky, or in West Virginia, where voters will reliably lean Republican in national elections. But as McClatchy Newspapers reports, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are focusing on nearby Ohio.

Obama, like his challenger, nevertheless has talked up coal during the campaign. He highlighted a vision for the future during his Democratic National Convention speech in which the nation continues to invest in "clean coal" technologies meant to reduce the carbon dioxide impact of burning coal and keep the industry going.

The Obama campaign has run radio ads in Ohio hammering on that theme and portraying Romney as the one who's really anti-coal. The ads are about Romney's 2003 effort, as the governor of Massachusetts, against an unpopular coal plant in his state.

This is kind of awkward for both candidates; both Romney and Vice President Joe Biden have said in the past some variation on the theme that "coal kills people" and environmentalists have been a reliable voting block for Obama. But is all this pro-coal campaigning just a cheap political ploy to win voters, or could a President Romney or Obama actually revive the coal industry? The article points out that cheap and abundant natural gas has dealt more of a death knell to coal than environmental regulations.

Romney has attacked coal regulations but he'd have limited power to roll them back if he's elected, said Kyle Danish, a lawyer who specializes in energy at the Van Ness Feldman law firm in Washington. The biggest EPA air-quality rule that affects coal plants is a limit on mercury and air-toxics emissions, he said. It stems from requirements of the Clean Air Act, a law that only Congress can change.

Romney might be able to delay the deadlines for compliance or make some changes if the courts toss out the Obama rule, Danish said, but the Clean Air Act has boundaries that wouldn't let him be too lenient. Romney also has made it clear that he's against using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and he could try to slow or block rules on that from being finalized. But the courts have said so far that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide, and there are limits on what Romney could do without Congress agreeing to make changes to the law.

Danish says a Romney administration could have more influence on issues like mountaintop removal mining, though.