Kentucky Coal Association watching gubernatorial race to see who will be best for industry

08/13/2015 11:55 PM

Gubernatorial candidates Matt Bevin and Jack Conway are seeking the support of the electorate on Nov. 3, but the two are also competing for the support of the coal industry — a group courted in nearly every statewide race in Kentucky.

Kentucky Coal Association president Bill Bissett said the group recognizes their influential stature, but said some of the influence comes from the economic reality that coal offers a relatively cheap electrical power source that is used as a business attractor.

Bissett said the group, and other politicians, have been working with Attorney General Jack Conway since his run for U.S. Senate in 2010.

“It’s been a little collaborative, to be honest with you, a person who deserves a lot of the credit is the attorney general in West Virginia, Patrick Morrisey, who is a Republican, has sought out Democratic attorney general to support his efforts, because he understands … a bipartisan approach to a single-party president has a stronger impact.

“Is there a political calculus here in maybe what General Conway is doing? Maybe there is. I wouldn’t blame him for that, but I also think he understands that if he’s going to be governor of this commonwealth moving forward how the economy does, access to low-cost, reliable electricity is going to be a big part of whether he’s successful or not.”

Bissett said that Bevin, who like Conway hails from Louisville, understands the advantage of coal to the Kentucky economy.

Still, the KCA and others within the coal industry are evaluating each candidate’s stance, and both Conway and Bevin offer similar pro-coal platforms.

Conway has sued President Obama and the federal Environmental Protection Agency on multiple occasions, and Bevin opposes nearly every move from the Obama administration.

“You look at Matt Bevin or General Conway and you have two people who are very pro coal, and I think that is a very good thing,” Bissett said. “Mr. Bevin is very clearly not a fan of the current administration in D.C. and is outspoken against them, and General Conway has been very aggressive on litigation that in some cases he’s been the only Democrat, really, in litigation against the EPA to protect our coal production and coal usage.”

Bevin and Conway have also both made “strong” statements against the Obama administration’s finalized green house gas rule, Bissett said, but it will take time for the coal industry to have confidence in the politicians.

Conway sued against the rule when it was an not a finalized proposal, even though Kentucky was likely on target to meet 18 percent reductions in carbon emissions by 2020 based on 2005 emissions standards. Power plants closing in the state from 2008 to planned closures would have likely supplied the megawatt hours to meet the standards. However, the newly finalized rule from the EPA mandates a 41 percent reduction in carbon emissions in Kentucky based on 2005 numbers, and Conway joined 15 other attorneys general in litigation against the rule.

Both Conway and Bevin say they will not submit a reduction plan to the federal government,something U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has called on all governors to do.

Still, the industry is watching Bevin and Conway to make sure they know what’s being said by the candidates so they can “hold them accountable,” Bissett said.

Bissett moderated a secret debate in Bristol, Va., between Conway and Bevin before 100 to 200 coal industry and energy leaders “on a national level,” first reported by the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Sam Youngman.

“Governors can stand up to a president now. That’s something we really believe in in this country, so where these governors are in coal states I think are of interest not just to Kentuckians,” Bissett said.

Both candidates will again be invited to the KCA’s annual meeting, though they’re unsure if media will be allowed to attend the event. Bissett said there’s a level of truthfulness that can be achieved without the watchful eye of the press.

“When you meet with candidates who are seeking an executive position like this you want them to be very unfiltered in their discussions,” he said, “and like it or not, these are folks running for office. Every word they say is analyzed and critiqued. … You want to hear from them directly.”

“Your concern is well merited,” Bissett continued. “We do consider such things, but to be honest with you that all happened in about a week — it was right after the primary. That was a lot of it, I can tell you that.”

Bissett said the industry is also watching the race for attorney general. The KCA is taking both Democratic candidate Andy Besehar and Republican candidate Whitney Westerfield underground to see a working mine, and they’re counting on both candidates to keep litigious pressure on the federal government.

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@twcnews.com.

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