West Virginia Senate: The Battle of Who Can Love Coal More


The controversy about the Republicans’ ads featuring “hicky” actors in West Virginia, which were pulled this afternoon, has overshadowed the stink of desperation coming from the Manchin campaign this week.

Democratic Senate candidate and current Gov. Joe Manchin announced Wednesday that the state is suing the Environmental Protection Agency over mining rules. The timing is no small coincidence; while he was expected to cruise to an easy victory, Manchin is five points behind Republican John Raese in the most recent polls. In announcing the suit, Manchin accused the EPA of slowing down the permitting of mountaintop removal coal mining sites. “The EPA’s illegal actions unfortunately will hurt the West Virginia economy,” Manchin said Wednesday. “It’s a shame when you have to sue your own government.”

Indeed, Obama’s EPA has subjected these controversial permits to more scrutiny under the Clean Water Act and granted fewer permits than it did under George W. Bush. But coal companies are still blowing up mountains and dumping the waste in valleys.

Manchin is clearly hoping that distancing himself from President Obama will help him politically—and the EPA lawsuit is just the latest in a series of similar moves, as he accused the administration of trying “to destroy our coal industry and way of life.” And while he insists that the suit has been in the works since April, it’s hard not to notice the timing of the announcement.

After all, getting elected in West Virginia seems to require keeping the coal industry as happy as possible, and Manchin has never been shy about his support for the industry. On the endorsement front, Manchin already has the backing of the West Virginia Coal Association, which represents 90 percent of the coal producers in the state, as well as the United Mine Workers of America. The head of the association joined him at yesterday’s event.

But that hasn’t kept Raese from painting his opponent as anti-coal. The Republican’s latest campaign ad accuses Manchin of backing the Obama administration’s energy and climate policies. “Obama said he wants to tax coal, even to bankruptcy. Cap and trade’s carbon taxes would destroy the coal industry,” the ad’s narrator says. “Manchin’s already signed West Virginia’s cap and trade into law. It’s time we say no to rubber stamp Joe.”

It was probably inevitable, of course, that the West Virginia race would become a battle of who can love coal more. Apparently Manchin is still hoping to win it.

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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.