IncumbentSen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., placed the blame for Kentucky's coal collapse at thefeet of the Obama administration this week as the junior senator's re-electionbid comes into focus and he promises further pushback on federal authority.
Monthsafter a failed bid for the White House, Paul's re-election campaign comes asKentucky struggles to cope with a dramatic downturn in coal production and employment. According toKentucky's Energy & Environment Cabinet, the commonwealth's coal sectoremployment has fallen to its lowest level since 1898.
ForPaul, the solution for this sharp downturn lies with a pushback on energy andenvironmental regulations introduced during the Obama administration.
"Thebiggest challenge facing Kentucky's coal industry is absolutely the outrageousamount of overregulation from President Obama and his Environmental ProtectionAgency," Paul told S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
Source: Rand Paul for U.S. Senate
Accordingto Paul, the effect of these regulations extends far beyond the coal sector,impacting downstream industries across the commonwealth.
"InKentucky we've lost over 10,000 coal jobs since 2008," Paul said. "Thedecline grows every single year. What people often forget is that when thepresident decides to unilaterally implement anti-coal regulations, he's notonly putting coal companies and coal miners out of work. He's putting thecoal-dependent industries out of work too. Recently, CSX Railroad in GreenupCounty announced they were laying off another 101 employees in addition to the180 they laid off in Corbin late last year, because there isn't enough coal forthem to transport. The EPA's war isn't just on coal, it's on all Kentucky jobs."
WhilePaul enjoys the benefits of incumbency and support in the commonwealth, hecould be weighed down by the time spent out of Kentucky during the presidentialcampaign and the "unpredictable" impact of presumptive Republicannominee Donald Trump's place at the top of the ticket, according to KyleKondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, a political analysis websiteat the University of Virginia's Center for Politics
Still,Paul remains confident that he can stand apart from challengers like DemocraticMayor Jim Gray of Lexington, Ky., on coal issues.
"HillaryClinton recently bragged to the American people that she's going to put a lotof coal companies and miners out of business," Paul said, referring tocomments theDemocratic frontrunner made at an Ohio event earlier this year. "Kentuckyneeds leaders who will stand up to the Obama-Clinton War on Coal and fight backagainst their job-killing agenda. I have fought against the liberal Washingtonmachine and War on Coal my entire time in the Senate, and I have tried todefend Kentucky from the EPA's abusive regulations at every chance I've had."
Gray'scampaign and the Kentucky Democratic Party did not respond to repeated requeststo comment on the upcoming election and Gray's position on coal issues.
Paul'spush to link Clinton to the Obama administration and its coal-related policiesthat have been so unpopular in producing regions of the commonwealth has provento be an effective campaign tool during recent Kentucky elections.
In2014, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saddled his opponent,Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, with the on his way to adecisive victory.
Afterdismissing Clinton's recent trip to coal country as a continuation of the Obamaadministration's "war on coal," Paul responded to questions about theDemocrat's $30 billion coal country aid proposal with a pitch of his own aimed at economicrevitalization.
Called"Economic Freedom Zones" by the senator, the proposal would reducetaxes and regulations and increase incentives for businesses in areas impactedby the downturn.
"Theyare much more than a government stimulus or handout," Paul said."They empower communities by leveraging the human capital, naturalresources, and business investment opportunities that already exist. Reducingthe taxes in economically depressed areas is a stimulus that will work becausethe money is returned to businesses and individuals who have already proventhey can succeed."
WhilePaul's proposal has failed to find a legislative foothold in Washington, heremains confident that it would lead to providing needed funds to thosecommunities most impacted by the industry collapse. In a May 2 defense of hisproposal in the Lexington Herald Leader, Paul described the plan as "leadingthe charge against the war on coal".
Beyondhis economic revitalization plan, Paul has promised to continue his pushbackagainst federal policies so often cited as detrimental to the industry. Despiteprogress made by a number of Obama administration policies, Paul remainsconfident that he and others can delay and ultimately halt the regulations.
Specifically,Paul noted his resistance to the U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan, an effort that would "allowstates to opt out of submitting a compliance plan under the" agency'scarbon plan, signing onto a court challenge to the rule and a call for any treatynegotiated during the recent U.N. climate talks in Paris to be reviewed by theU.S. Senate.
However,Paul added that none of this would ultimately matter for the commonwealth'scoal industry if the Republicans fail to win in November.
"Ifwe have a president like Hillary Clinton, who has promised to finish off theWar on Coal that President Obama started, we have a much tougher fight ahead ofus," Paul said. "Additionally, we cannot afford a handpicked Obamanominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, which is why I absolutely will notvote for his nominee. An anti-coal appointee would be catastrophic forKentucky's coal jobs and coal dependent industries."
Despitehis broader support for Republican electoral success, Paul does divert frommuch of the party in his stance on support for coal capture and sequestrationtechnology, often cited as a vital tool for sustaining coal use in the U.S.
Whilea number of membersof the U.S. Congress have called for greater funding and federal support for CCS technology, Paulsaid that the "future and success of these technologies should be left upto the free market, not the federal government."