Eastern Kentucky Democrats struggle to square support of coal industry and President Obama

06/06/2012 09:26 PM

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s hearing on Tuesday was billed as a chance for the public to weigh in on 36 coal mine permits that federal regulators had blocked.

But for many of the politicians who spoke, it had as much to do with President Barack Obama as the permits.

Republicans blamed the Democratic president for singling out Kentucky, perhaps as retribution for being a red state in presidential elections.

At least one Democrat, Rep. Fitz Steele of Hazard, told EPA officials that “you all have a president in Washington who has targeted coal from Day 1.”

All this came two weeks after Obama received 58 percent of the vote against no one in a Democratic primary. About 42 percent of Kentucky Democrats who voted in the low-turnout primary checked the box for “uncommitted.” In fact, Obama lost handily in the western and eastern Kentucky coal counties.

Other Democratic officials from coal country told Pure Politics they support Obama but are uncomfortable with his administration’s handling of the coal industry. That includes state Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, who represents Letcher County and parts of Pike and Harlan counties — ranked number 1 and number 3 in the state, respectively, in coal production.

Combs said she voted for Obama in the primary but will serve as an “uncommitted” delegate to the Democratic National Convention in September in the hopes that she can meet with Obama administration officials about her concerns with the EPA’s handling of coal permits.

Here’s a recap of the political undertones in Tuesday’s EPA hearing:

Like Combs, Sen. Walter Blevins — a Democrat from Morehead — said he supported Obama in the primary. Blevins said Democrats need to support Obama in the fall because he’s better for the country than Republican Mitt Romney. However, Blevins was quick to add that he supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary and would rather see her in the White House.

Other Democratic state lawmakers joined Combs, Steele and Blevins in their support for the coal industry and in voicing their frustration at the EPA. They included Sens. Robin Webb of Grayson, Dorsey Ridley of Henderson and Reps. Jim Gooch of Providence, Teddy Edmonds of Beattyville, Brent Yonts of Greenville and Hubie Collins of Wittensville.

Others appeared at a coal rally before the hearing, including state Auditor Adam Edelen.


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