Sen. Mark Warner found himself in a tighter political bind than most Democrats over President Obama’s tough new environmental rules that would put coal-fired power plants on the road to extinction.
While red-state Democrats in tough election contests hurled attacks at Mr. Obama and denounced his regulatory scheme for fighting climate change, Mr. Warner labored to appease both his state’s Democratic base and supporters he’s long cultivated in Virginia coal country.
Mr. Warner burnished his political credentials in part by forging inroads with voters in coal mining towns in southwestern Virginia. That support could be in jeopardy if his likely Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, convinces voters that Mr. Warner has helped wage the presidents’ alleged “war on coal.”
Mr. Warner tried to split the issue down the middle for his blue-state voters, promising to study the new rules and listen to stakeholders.
“Virginia is at the center of the national debate on climate change, with our coalfields in southwest Virginia and the Commonwealth’s coastal cities beginning to see the impact of sea rise,” Mr. Warner said, calling the rules “complicated, consequential and far-reaching.”
Mr. Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, was campaigning in southeast Virginia to coincide with the Obama administration announcing of the new rules.
“This war against coal is brutal and its devastating in Virginia,” he told the Washington Times. “People know that Senator Warner has not stood up for people in coal country. He has not been a voice for them at all.”
The proposed rule would force power plants to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent over the next 15 years. It would have the harder impact on coal-fired plants, which produce about 40 percent of electricity in the United States and emitting the most greenhouse gasses blamed for causing global warming.
For other Democrats running in red states and coal states, Mr. Obama was an irresistible target.
In Kentucky, the third largest coal producing state in the country, Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes vowed to fight “the president’s attack on Kentucky’s coal industry.
“President Obama’s new EPA rule is more proof that Washington isn’t working for Kentucky. Coal keeps the lights on in the Commonwealth, providing a way for thousands of Kentuckians to put food on their tables,” said Mrs. Grimes, who has struggled to distance herself from Mr. Obama.
Her opponent, five-term GOP incumbent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has tried to label Mrs. Grimes as part of the “war on coal.”
Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, who is one of the most endangered Democrats, touted her opposition “time and time again” to EPA acting alone to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“While it is important to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, this should not be achieved by EPA regulations. Congress should set the terms, goals and timeframe,” she said.
West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall, who is the last of the coal state Democrats in the House and facing one of the toughest race of his nearly four decades in office, joined with Republican colleagues to slam the rule.
He touted a bill he co-sponsored with Rep. David McKinley, West Virginia Republican, that would terminate the new rule.
“There is a right way and a wrong way of doing things, and the Obama Administration has got it wrong once again,” he said. “This new regulation threatens our economy and does so with an apparent disregard for the livelihoods of our coal miners and thousands of families throughout West Virginia.”