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In The Supposed 'War on Coal', West Virginia and Kentucky Parallel on Mining Jobs, Politics


The "war on coal" is a phrase that's increasingly popular in Central Appalachia politics. With declines in coal jobs and new rules from the EPA to target carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, the words become hugely political--especially during an election year.

But the phrase's validity certainly begs question, at least according to a recent article by Erica Peterson of WFPL in Louisville.

Just last week, Peterson--who began her career as a reporter at West Virginia Public Broadcasting--detailed the ups and downs of Kentucky's coal jobs back to the Reagan administration beginning in 1981, examining the loss or gain of coal mining employment within that state across presidencies. What she found was, that if a war on coal exists in Kentucky, the blame goes farther back than President Barack Obama. 

Peterson's analysis of Kentucky coal jobs over the past few decades seems to mirror the situation in West Virginia, with the most recent significant peak occurring in the late 1970s to early 1980s. (Click to see a graph outlining shifts in Kentucky coal jobs over the years.)


 The Tale of Two Senate Races: Parties Try to 'Out-Coal' The Other

Peterson said her look into the discussion over a "war on coal" was inspired by a column written by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Up for re-election in November, McConnell has been squaring off against Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Coal remains one of the biggest issues of the race.

Yet Peterson said she sees parallels in a race for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia--between Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.

"They're really pretty similar. In both states, you have Republicans who have held office--Shelley Moore Capito in the House and Mitch McConnell in the Senate--who have these very pro-coal stances," Peterson said.

"You basically have the democrats trying to 'out -coal' the republicans. Here in Kentucky, there's very little difference in the talking points that Mitch McConnell and Allison Lundergan Grimes are spouting on coal."

And the same can be said about recent advertising campaigns from Capito and Tennant. Television spots from each accuse President Obama for waging a "war on coal."



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