FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes distanced herself from the Obama administration Friday by criticizing an Environmental Protection Agency proposal that she said would lead to more job losses in Kentucky's already hurting mining industry.
In doing so, Grimes took the side of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, the man she wants to replace next year.
Grimes said Friday she was "deeply disappointed" by the EPA's move to impose stricter limits on carbon pollution from new coal-fired power plants.
"Yet again President Obama's administration has taken direct aim at Kentucky jobs," Grimes said in a statement. "The EPA's ruling practically prohibits construction of new coal-fired plants, which will threaten Kentucky jobs and raise energy prices that hurt Kentucky's middle class families."
Coal mining, a major industry in Kentucky, has become a central issue in the Senate race. McConnell has been a longtime critic of Obama administration policies impacting mining and has had widespread support from the industry over nearly three decades in the Senate. Grimes wants that support from coal and has been aggressively courting industry leaders, several of whom have provided financial backing to her in the past.
Grimes received the endorsement of the United Mine Workers of America in her successful 2011 race for secretary of state. And she collected campaign contributions for that race from some of the most influential leaders in Kentucky's mining industry, including Alliance Coal chief executive officer Joe Craft and more than a dozen of his subordinates. Even Heath Lovell, a mine executive who played a pivotal role in Republican Andy Barr defeating former Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler last year by appearing in TV attack ads, contributed to Grimes in 2011.
The latest EPA proposal, which would set the first national limits on heat-trapping pollution from future power plants, would force utilities to look to means other than coal for generating electricity. To meet the standards, new coal-fired plants would need to install expensive systems to capture carbon dioxide so that it can be buried underground.
Kentucky's coal industry, facing decreased demand for its product and more stringent environmental restrictions, has been in a prolonged economic slump. More than 4,000 miners in the state have lost their jobs over the past two years, including 525 who just this week received layoff notices.
McConnell called the EPA's decision to press ahead with the carbon proposal "an escalation of the war on coal."
"This is another attempt by the president to fulfill his long-term commitment to shut down our nation's coal mines," McConnell charged. "Sadly, it does not come as a shock given his failed attempt at getting Congress to pass a cap and tax bill designed to hike utility rates and bankrupt the coal industry."
McConnell said he intends to force a congressional vote to stop the proposal, which is drawing criticism beyond the political realm in Kentucky.
The campaign of McConnell's GOP primary opponent, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, said in a statement that the attack on Kentucky coal can't stand. "It's unfair to Kentucky miners and to families struggling with increasing energy prices," the campaign said.
Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Dave Adkisson said the proposal would have repercussions beyond the coalfields because it carries the potential for driving up utility bills on manufacturers that rely heavily on electricity, including the state's automakers, aluminum smelters and steel mills.
And United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts said the proposal would be devastating for miners, their families and the communities where they live.
Clearly, the administration has made the determination that it wants to cut our nation's most abundant source of fuel — coal — out of the mix," Roberts said.