Today, West Virginia coal groups are announcing their support of Mitt Romney for president. What would a Mitt Romney presidency mean for the state's flagship industry?
In a lot of ways, Romney doesn't differ much from President Barack Obama on energy. Both say their goal is to increase all forms of domestic energy. Where the two differ is that Romney believes certain regulations are restricting the industry beyond the level necessary for responsible development.
When considering the consequence of development, Romney says, current regulators do not give enough weight to the economic effect of regulation. Protecting the environment is a more constant theme in Obama's materials on energy policy.
While coalfields residents have echoed belief that Obama is waging a war on coal, many have looked to the other side of the aisle for better options. Remember anti-Obama sentiment was so high that during the primary, West Virginia voted for a convicted felon over the current President.
Both candidates have been fairly silent on coal, an industry increasingly losing national political heft. Oil, gas, nuclear and alternative energy have basically stole the national stage when it comes to energy discussion.
Analyzing their publicly posted energy policies, a few differences as it relates to coal is apparent.
Romney has ideas that hinge on regulatory reform, stimulating production and promoting research and development. He says under his administration, permits are going to be streamlined and his administration will provide permits at even faster rates for companies with proven safety records.
Romney wants to amend the Clean Air Act to exclude carbon dioxide from its purview. This is probably the strongest issue tying Romney to the coal industry.
The Obama administration's Environmental Protection Agency has made it difficult to build any new coal-fired power plants due to limits on CO2 emissions. While Romney said he opposed regulating carbon dioxide under the auspices of the Clean Air Act, he also does not appear to offer any sort of alternative restriction on carbon dioxide emissions.
Carbon dioxide emissions have been the target of the current administration, attempting to curtail rising global temperatures. One of the solutions from both sides of the aisle has been encouraging development of shale gas, the burning of which produces less carbon dioxide.
In his energy policy document, Romney points out that one reason to encourage natural gas is that it displaces coal with lesser environmental impacts.
"Of critical importance: the environmental impact of fracking should not be considered in the abstract, but rather evaluated in comparison to the impact of utilizing the fuels that natural gas displaces, including coal," Romney's materials state.
A combination of high-availability, low-cost and lower emissions has already made natural gas a formidable economic opponent to coal. It seems both presidential candidates are more interested in promoting natural gas than coal.
Romney essentially wants to make it easier to drill for natural gas and oil. Obama said he has the same goal and that natural gas and oil production has been increasing under his administration.
Both parties support nuclear energy development, another potential competitor for coal. Obama touts investment in nuclear, while Romney proposes an additional step — streamlining permit reviews and reducing the time to get a permit.
Obama's energy policy materials focus heavily on the support of solar and wind energy. Romney's campaign has largely omitted those energy sources, promoting "basic research" funding with a hesitance to extend investment to "politically favored approaches."
On coal, Romney is less specific about his policy approaches. Obama set a 10-year goal to develop and deploy "cost-effective clean coal technology." Efforts to develop such technology would be required to meet his EPA's carbon emissions limits.
"The Recovery Act invested substantially in carbon capture and sequestration research, including 22 projects across four different areas of carbon capture-and-storage research and development," Obama materials state.
Another interesting note on Obama's page is on that of miner safety, a point not mentioned in Romney's plans.
"Under President Obama, we've implemented numerous initiatives to improve miner health and safety, and 2011 saw the second-fewest miner deaths on record," the Obama campaign states.
Romney's energy policies that would benefit coal seem to do so only indirectly because they would benefit fossil fuels as a whole. Things such as lifting carbon emissions limits and streamlining permitting processes.
Obama has one specifically pro-coal policy bullet, but it's only pro-coal in the sense that it is helping the industry comply with a rule his administration is implementing. Romney wants to help coal by lifting carbon limits, while the Obama administration wants to help coal emit less carbon.
Romney has not yet made it clear whether or not coal mining permits that are facing challenges by the Obama administration would face similar challenges under his own administration.
What is clear is that both candidates are proposing to encourage the development of other energy sources. With demand for electricity slowing down, this may mean less room for coal in the domestic energy market. The alternative, one many companies are already attempting, is to increase the export of coal to other countries.
While some Obama policies make the actual mining of coal more difficult, Romney has not yet attacked such policies.
I'll be heading down to the coalfields and will report for the State Journal on more information on the coalfields campaign for Romney this evening. If an interview with Logan County Vendors Association Vice President Jim Winkler given to MetroNews is any indication, this is likely less about getting Romney elected and more about getting Obama out of office.
Bonus: The two statements likely to get repeated in the coalfields during the Romney v. Obama debate?
Romney: (In front of a coal plant) "I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people. And that plant, that plant kills people."
Obama: "So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it's just that it will bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted."