By Joe Vardon
It appears that the Kasich and FitzGerald campaigns have reached consensus on something: Coal is not going to be a major issue in the 2014 election.
"Not really," Republican Gov. John Kasich said on Tuesday when asked if he thought coal would play a role in his race with Democrat Ed FitzGerald.
At some level, both Kasich and FitzGerald support using coal as an energy resource, and a spokeswoman for FitzGerald echoed Kasich's comments.
But both sides apparently see political ramifications just under the surface.
Kasich's team took a step forward in its support for coal yesterday with Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor's appearance at a pro-coal rally in Pittsburgh that drew about 1,000 people.
In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed sweeping new rules that would require a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions from U.S. power plants by 2030. Yesterday's rally, which also featured GOP Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania and Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia, was held in reaction to public hearings this week.
"I would say anything that impacts jobs in Ohio could have an impact on the election," Taylor said.
In Ohio, 13,200 people are employed in the mining and logging industries. That does not count jobs at coal-fired power plants and other coal-related jobs.
Industry supporters fear that the proposed federal regulations would harm not only coal-mining jobs, but also the 20 Ohio power plants that burn coal. Ohio's power plants already have cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 16.5 percent from 2005 levels. They cut carbon-dioxide emissions 13 percent from 2011 to 2012.
When Taylor decried the proposed rules in her speech yesterday, she compared them to another federal issue -- President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
"Like it or hate it, Obamacare is very similar," Taylor said. "We were told there would be flexibility in how we handled the regulations. Guess what: no flexibility. You're being told the same thing: The federal EPA is going to be flexible. Well, I've seen this movie before, and it doesn't end well for us."
Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for FitzGerald, said federal and state policymakers need to do more to help communities that suffer if plants close because of EPA regulations -- an area in which FitzGerald has said both Kasich and Obama have fallen short.
Hitt also said Taylor's speech shows that the Kasich administration does not support "green" energy.
"Kasich already did himself in on green energy with Senate Bill 310," Hitt said of the measure that froze Ohio's renewable-energy standards for two years.
Kasich disputes that.
"I'm for renewables," he said. "I'm for all these things, but they have to be done in a way that fits Ohio," adding that he made S.B. 310 a better law. It originally was pitched without the two-year limit.
Kasich appeared in a video at the Pittsburgh rally, which also featured Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp. founder Robert Murray. Murray Energy associates, including Murray, have contributed nearly $14,000 to Kasich's campaign this cycle.
In 2012, Obama's position on coal cost him votes in some eastern Ohio counties that Democrats typically win, such as Jefferson County. But he won Ohio and Pennsylvania on his way to holding on to the White House.
In the front row in Pittsburgh yesterday was Jacob McCartney, 21, of Freeport, Ohio, a coal miner who said he fears for his job.
"I'll be paying attention big time this fall to see who says what about coal," he said. "In the coal-mining industry, it seems like Republicans have done the best for us, but I'll want to hear what everyone has to say this time. They all say they (support coal), and then they get into office."