Senators must help keep coal alive

Voters in states such as West Virginia and Ohio won’t put up with excuses from the U.S. Senate this time around.

President Barack Obama has made it clear he intends to kill the coal industry – and thus, reasonably priced electricity for tens of millions of Americans.

Last week, Obama revealed a plan to nail the lid down on the coffin he already has prepared for the coal industry. He will use the executive branch, without consulting Congress, to do it, he emphasized.

All members of the House will be up for re-election in November 2014, as will 33 senators. Fourteen of them are Republicans, while 19 are Democrats.

Friends of coal and the cheap electricity it provides can rely on the House to try to rein Obama in. But the Senate still is controlled by Democrats, though only by the narrow margin of 54-46. Undoubtedly, some of them will stick with Obama and anti-coal Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

But others may decide they don’t want to explain to voters why they allowed Obama to kill jobs by the hundreds of thousands and jack up household electric bills by hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year. That is true especially in states where coal-fired power plants now provide substantial percentages of electricity.

Of the 19 Democrats up for re-election in 2014, 13 come from states where one-third or more of the power is generated at coal-fired stations. In some, such as West Virginia, nearly all of the voters thank coal miners when they flip their light switches on..

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.., is among those whose terms expire this time around. He, along with a few other key coal-state senators, has announced he will not seek re-election.

But Jay doesn’t want to poison the waters for his party’s nominee. During Obama’s first term, he was a staunch supporter of White House environmental initiatives. But after the president’s declaration of all-out war this week, Rockefeller backed away a bit. “Any action on climate change is going to have a direct effect on the lives of our mining communities … and on the pocketbooks of every one of our middle-class families still dealing with a recovering job market,” he warned.

Pro-coal senators such as Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., already may be counting votes to determine how many senators of both parties are rethinking their positions as they calculate how angry voters will be when their power bills start going up, the jobs go away because energy-intensive industries no longer can compete, and large regions of their states dry up and blow away because mines have shut down.

My guess is a “Stop the War on Coal” bill would have a better chance in the Senate than a year ago.