Similar criticisms of the EPA from McConnell and Grimes could not be more different

06/02/2014 05:21 PM

With the release of new carbon emissions standards by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday , GOP U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes appeared to be on the same side of the fight over Kentucky’s coal fired power plants’ futures.

But that didn’t stop each from pointing fingers at the other one. McConnell tried to link Grimes to the new rules using the connection that she comes from the same party as the president. And Grimes blamed “Washington,” which is her code word for incumbents, including McConnell.

They — and most other Kentucky candidates and officials — blasted the regulations as being unfair to Kentucky — a state that relies on coal for 90 percent of its power. But in no race has the coal issue been more prominent than the U.S. Senate contest. McConnell has based his re-election bid on criticizing the president and trying to defend a coal industry that has struggled mightily in recent years.

Grimes has responded by seeking to distance herself from President Barack Obama. She told voters in her first television ad that, “No matter who the president is, I won’t answer to them. I’ll only answer to you.”

McConnell has gone a step further in the political war-of-words by seeking to tie Grimes to his Senate counterpart Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada.

McConnell has repeatedly reminded Kentuckians of Reid’s statement on coal in a 2008 interview in which he said that “coal makes us sick, oil makes us sick, it’s ruining our country, it’s ruining our world.”

Grimes may also be opening her flank on the connections to Reid as she continues to attend campaign fundraisers with the senator.

During a press conference the week of the primary election McConnell was asked by the Courier-Jounral’s Joe Gerth about Reid’s comment on coal and if he saw the connection between coal and respiratory illnesses like black lung.

McConnell is not without scrutiny Grimes’ campaign has highlighted how one of McConnell’s donors, David Litman, is a Texas businessman who fought the construction of 11 coal-fired power plants in his state.

As the campaigns fight over who stands for coal miners, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said that the focus on carbon emissions was part of a “moral obligation to act on climate.”

How important is coal in Kentucky politics?

“In coal producing regions it’s exceedingly important,” said Bob Babbage, a Frankfort lobbyist and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Babbage added that the issue is really important everywhere on “multiple sides.” Right now, Babbage said as the campaigns move into September and then into November that coal is a top five, but not necessarily the “driving issue across the state.”

Most recently the sixth-district congressional race between former U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler and current U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in 2012 was played out over the coal issue late in the campaign.

While that Central Kentucky district doesn’t include a mine, many residents — especially of the district’s eastern counties — had some economic or family connection to the industry, which Chandler underestimated. Chandler also cited the unpopularity of Obama, who was at the top of the ballot that year.

The Chandler lesson seems to be one that has soaked in for Grimes. Her campaign has made a six-figure ad buy in newspapers in eastern and western coal producing counties.

The ads will highlight Grimes’ displeasure with the EPA with the ad featuring a coal miner hold a piece of coal with copy reading,” President Obama and Washington doesn’t get it… Alison Grimes does.”

Similarly, a web video from Republican National Committee criticizes Obama’s position on coal using McConnell as the video’s star:

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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