Trouble in Coal Country: Blue States to Snub Obama?

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Job creation and rising energy prices are big issues in this year's presidential elections. A major battleground will be the top coal-producing states, where 182 electoral votes are on the line. 

Now as the November elections approach, the Obama administration's stance on coal could present a challenge.

When Coal Trumps Politics

In 2008, President Obama won the vote of coal-producing states. This November, voters in coal country say all party ties are being set aside.

"Enough's, enough," Karla May, Democratic state representative of the 84th District in Kentucky, declared. "We want change, we're going to have change. We're going have change in November." 

It's the rallying cry spreading throughout coal country.

"I am a registered Democrat," West Virginia voter Brandon Sammons said. "But I am for coal and by that being said I am against Barak Obama."

Mingo County, W.Va., is what many people call the heart of the Obama opposition movement.

But locals say it's not about Republican or Democrat. It's about coal.

Obama's defeat in in Mingo during this year's Democratic primaries made headlines. Keith Judd, a candidate labeled as an "Unknown," walked away with 61 percent of the vote.  

Mingo Country resident, Leisha Johnson, was one of the many who voted for Judd.

"I don't know who this guy is," Johnson admitted. "I know he probably doesn't have a chance of earning an electoral vote in the state of West Virginia. I wasn't even sure that he was on ballots in other states."

"But I wanted to vote against President Obama in order to send that message that we need change," she said.

Later, the world learned Keith Judd was a convicted felon in Texas serving time for extortion. While the defeat in Mingo County was only a small loss, it sent a big message: several swing states depend on coal production.

Romney Targets Coal Vote

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney hopes his support for coal may tip those states in his favor.

"We have 200 years of coal and we should use it," Romney said at a campaign event in Ohio coal country.

He criticized new "green" regulations that put a strain on the coal industry.

"He's for all those sources that come above the ground," Romney said. "We are going to take advantage of resources above and below the ground and save your jobs and create jobs."

The president said it's time to make an energy strategy for the future beginning with a foundation of "clean energy."

"Let's produce more fuel efficient cars," Obama said. "Let's produce more solar and wind power and other sources of clean renewable energy."

Obama credits these projects for creating thousands of new jobs.

"And at a moment when we want to pursue every avenue for job creation, it's homegrown energy like wind that's creating good new jobs in states like Iowa."

But as those jobs are added, thousands are being lost in coal country.

"You know, you go to your kid's baseball games and people can't enjoy their family time, their time with their kids because (the) whole talk of the town is actually about a layoff or about a job shutting down," Sammons said.

And consider these figures: renewable energy generates only 13 percent of U.S. electricity. Coal generates 42 percent.

Many in the coal industry point to that gap and wonder why they are given an ultimatum of "change your way of doing business or else."

"You've got to give people time to come up with the clean coal technology and the ideas need to be put into place and you can't do it overnight and you can't just replace coal overnight," said Maj. Gen. Allen Tackett, a former coal miner and now the adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard. 

"I mean if we can put a man on the moon, I know that we can come up with ways to clean coal and clean coal technology that will give us energy independence into the future and make us continue to stay the greatest country this world has ever seen," he added.

Job-Killing Regulations

New government regulations are getting much of the blame. Mines must meet demanding environmental rules to stay in operation or get new permits.

Owners argue they can't afford to make the necessary changes in the amount of time they're given, resulting in layoffs and closures.

As mines shut down, prices increase, making coal power unprofitable and decreasing consumption. The end result: thousands of jobs lost and sky-rocketing electricity prices.

"Everything we do depends on energy," West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney said. "It's got to be affordable, it's got to be low cost, and it's got to be reliable, and coal fired electricity is that."

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, agreed.

"Whatever side of the spectrum you're on, the bottom line is this: no country has ever been successful or stayed successful, unless they used all the resources they had," he said.

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Caitlin Burke

Caitlin Burke

CBN News Producer

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