Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Correcting Kentucky Claim on Coal

An outside group attacking Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes is off base with its claim that she has been “silent” as “Obama attacked coal.” Grimes, a Democrat, has been vocal throughout her campaign about her opposition to Obama administration regulations on the coal industry, and recently took out a radio ad blasting new coal regulations as “pie in the sky.”

In fact, in the very newspaper article cited in the ad’s small print, Grimes is quoted as saying, “Coal keeps the lights on in Kentucky—plain and simple—and I will not stand idle as overreaching regulation adversely impacts jobs and middle-class families.”

Grimes has faced relentless criticism from Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign for her support for President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both of whom the campaign accuses of waging a “war on coal.” Grimes, however, has repeatedly distanced herself from Obama on that issue.

The ad from the pro-McConnell group Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, which is running it statewide on broadcast and cable, takes a similar approach.

Narrator: It’s Obama’s new assault on coal and Kentucky jobs. He’s determined to destroy coal and to elect liberals like Alison Grimes. Her campaign is financed by Obama’s anti-coal moneymen. Her record? Grimes was silent as Obama attacked coal — and she endorsed his reelection, fully supporting Obama’s liberal platform. She talks tough now but Alison Grimes is for Obama, not Kentucky.

It’s true that Grimes was part of Kentucky’s delegation to the 2012 Democratic National Convention that nominated Obama, and she said publicly at the time that she backed the president’s reelection bid. But shortly after announcing her candidacy for the Senate on July 1, 2013, Grimes made it clear that she parted ways with Obama on the issue of coal.

“I disagree with the president and his philosophy in terms of coal,” Grimes said in a press conference on July 18. “In the famous words of [‘America’s Got Talent’ contestant] Jimmy Rose, coal keeps the lights on in Kentucky. … I stand for coal, I stand by the 15,000 men and women whose jobs are at stake and I will continue to fight for them if elected.”

Two weeks later, during her first campaign rally in Lexington on July 30, Grimes said: “I’m here to tell you I don’t always agree with the president. I think he is wrong on coal.”

On her campaign website, going back to the earliest days of the campaign, Grimes stated, “I strongly oppose President Obama’s attack on Kentucky’s energy industry.”

Grimes campaign website, Aug. 1, 2013: Developing Kentucky’s energy will provide financial security to families across the state. Kentucky is leading the way in domestic energy development and the industry holds tremendous potential to grow our economy, create middle-class jobs and lower energy costs for families across the state. But Washington’s regulatory barriers and burdensome taxes threaten this critical development in Kentucky.

I strongly oppose President Obama’s attack on Kentucky’s energy industry. This Administration has taken direct aim at Kentucky’s coal industry, crippling our state’s largest source of domestic energy and threatening thousands of jobs. Washington Democrats and Republicans need to be realistic about what powers our nation and recognize that developing Kentucky’s supplies of coal is crucial.

We couldn’t find any public statements from Grimes regarding coal prior to her announcing her Senate candidacy, nor did her campaign provide any when we asked. But the ad suggests Grimes has been silent on the issue recently, as it repeatedly cites news articles from September 2013 and June 2014 on EPA regulations.

In September, when the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new greenhouse gas rules for power plants, Grimes said the rule left her “deeply disappointed.”

“Yet again President Obama’s administration has taken direct aim at Kentucky jobs,” Grimes added. “Kentuckians deserve better than out-of-touch Washington regulation that further devastates an already ravaged region.”

In fact, a Sept. 18, 2013, WFPL News article, cited in the ad, reported Grimes’ opposition on the eve of the EPA unveiling the stricter pollution limits.

“Coal keeps the lights on in Kentucky—plain and simple—and I will not stand idle as overreaching regulation adversely impacts jobs and middle-class families,” Grimes said. “Any new regulations must take into account the impact on Kentucky jobs and be based on current technology that will not drive Kentucky coal out of business.”

The ad correctly cites the first half of the article’s headline, “Kentucky Coal Leader Doubts Alison Lundergan Grimes. …” The full headline continues, “Could Be Stronger Advocate Than Mitch McConnell.” In the article, Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett praised McConnell for being a proponent of the coal industry in Washington. Bissett did not criticize Grimes’ stance on coal, saying only that her position wasn’t yet “defined” because she hadn’t said much about the subject until then and rarely was involved with the industry’s concerns or needs in her capacity as secretary of state.

We couldn’t find any pre-campaign statements from Grimes on coal, but in 2011, the United Mine Workers Association endorsed her during the race to become Kentucky’s secretary of state.

“She has been a very strong supporter of our industry and our membership in Kentucky,” Phil Smith, a spokesman for the UMWA, told us in a phone interview.

The UMWA has not yet endorsed anyone in the Kentucky Senate race. And Smith said that while the UMWA has endorsed the opponents of Republican Sens. Rand Paul and McConnell in the last two Kentucky Senate races, the organization has endorsed Republicans from Kentucky running for congressional as well as statewide office. This year, for example, the UMWA has endorsed three Republican House incumbents, Andy Barr, Brett Guthrie and Ed Whitfield.

In that 2011 run for secretary of state, Grimes also won financial support from a number of mining executives, including Alliance Coal CEO Joe Craft, in her primary against Elaine Walker. Walker had previously been tapped by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear to fill the remainder of Trey Grayson’s unexpired term as secretary of state.

Recently, Grimes has taken a more aggressive posture opposing the EPA’s June 2 announcement of proposed rules that seek to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants by as much as 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

In a radio ad released June 4, Grimes accused Obama of proposing “pie in the sky regulations that are impossible to achieve” and will cost more coal jobs.

Grimes, radio ad, June 4: This is Alison Lundergan Grimes and I have a message for President Barack Obama. Mr. President, Kentucky has lost one third of our coal jobs in just the last three years. Now your EPA is targeting Kentucky coal with pie in the sky regulations that are impossible to achieve. It’s clear you have no idea how this affects Kentucky. Coal supplies 92 percent of our state’s electricity. Your new regulations will lead to severe rate increases, shortages of power and the loss of even more coal jobs.

The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition ad begins by citing the new proposed EPA regulations and leaves the impression that Grimes’ support of Obama has translated to silence on those regulations. But Grimes has been anything but silent, as the radio ad shows. More broadly, the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition ad suggests that generic support for the president translates to agreement on every issue. But when it comes to regulations on the coal industry, Grimes has repeatedly distanced herself from Obama throughout her campaign.

— Robert Farley