As candidates to become Kentucky’s next governor scramble to pledge allegiance to the coal industry, there’s one question they’re not addressing: Does burning coal contribute to climate change?
None of the three announced candidates for governor—former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, both Republicans; nor Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway—have offered a statement one way or another about whether they agree with the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels like coal makes the planet warmer and destabilizing the climate.
And as WFPL’s Erica Peterson recently noted, perception of a lack of support for the industry is anathema to statewide Kentucky politicians.
Heiner spoke with Kentucky Public Radio on Thursday at the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s country ham breakfast in Louisville. He said he’s on the fence when it comes to the issue.
“I don’t have a scientific position on contribution or not,” Heiner said. “But what I do know is, if we’re going to stay economically competitive in a global marketplace, we have to burn coal.”
Heiner added that he believes the coal industry, which shed about 2,300 jobs in Kentucky in 2013, will have a rebound.
“I think it will employ a very significant number of people in that industry in the future,” he said.
In a released statement, Conway, like Heiner, wouldn’t directly address question.
“Many things contribute to climate change,” Conway said. “It’s not just if you burn coal but how you burn coal.”
The question was poised in an email to the Comer campaign, which has not yet responded.
Conway recently joined a lawsuit with 11 other states against the Environmental Protection Agency over its proposed regulations on greenhouse gas emissions—a fact that he reminded crowds of at the Fancy Farm picnic earlier this month.
But if the coal industry can’t continue to keep the lights on for its increasingly smaller number of employees, it seems likely to keep the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort bright: A cursory search of coal company contributions in the last two gubernatorial election cycles reveals that the winner receives the most money from the industry, according to records from the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
In the 2007 election, former Gov. Ernie Fletcher received nearly $58,000 from the industry, but lost to Gov. Steve Beshear, who received $67,500. And in 2011, Beshear got $35,188, which contributed to a successful defense against former Republican state Senate President David Williams, who only earned $29,800.