Coal-producing regions glow with anti-Obama feeling
The incumbent’s stance on the environment may cost him votes in some industries, writes CARL O'BRIENin Denver
ROBERT E Murray’s spacious office looks out over the rolling hills of southeastern Ohio. “This is coal country,” he says, with a flourish. “It’s a staple of American life . . . just like potatoes were to the Irish.”
It’s a view that might normally lift his spirits. After all, his company – Murray Energy Corp, the biggest coal mining company in Ohio – has made a fortune from the fossilised carbon in the surrounding hills.
But Murray (73), a man who still likes to don his mining suit and large steel boots from time to time, is not in good humour today.
“I don’t really understand who this Barack Obama is. All he is to me is the greatest destroyer of jobs that I know,” he says.
“I know the names of my coal miners, all 3,500 of them. I founded this company from a mortgaged home, and it now produces 62 per cent of Ohio’s coal. But if these mines close, these men lose their homes, their honour, their dignity, everything . . . He’s evil. It’s hard to know where the incompetence ends and the evil begins.”
It might not come as a surprise to learn that he’s supporting Mitt Romney. In fact, when the Republican presidential candidate came calling on his campaign tour, Murray closed his mines (“a safety precaution”, he says) and told his employees to attend the rally.
It sparked some controversy. Workers were reportedly told it was a mandatory meeting, though Murray insists his employees had a choice to attend or not.
Ordinarily, Obama might not have to worry too much about vested interests who are passionately opposed to his re-election. But these are not ordinary times.
Murray’s opposition represents problems for Obama in the coal-producing regions of swing states such as Ohio, Virginia, Colorado and Pennsylvania.
In the battle for the White House, both candidates’ positions on energy offer clearly different choices.
Obama insists there is a place for coal in his energy plans and administration officials claim the number of people employed in the industry has risen during his time in office. But his new Environmental Protection Agency regulations that target coal are not popular. They put new limits of emissions of toxins from coal-fired plants which officials say will save thousands of lives and reduce respiratory problems such as asthma.
Romney, by contrast, has pledged to dismantle the new environment regulations. He agrees with the coal industry which says that new standards will lead to significantly higher electricity costs and mass layoffs.
It’s a big shift from his days as governor of Massachusetts, when he was highly critical of the coal industry.
“I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant, that plant kills people,” Romney announced in 2003 to reporters and camera crews, as he stood outside a coal-burning plant in the state. Nowadays, he’s fully behind the industry. Romney’s campaign to oust Obama has benefited richly as a result.