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Coal wins in W.Va. primary as Clinton's industry comments continue to sting

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Coal wins in W.Va. primary as Clinton's industry comments continue to sting

The WestVirginia primary ended May 10 with strong advocates for the state's coal industrywinning the gubernatorial nominations for both the Democratic and Republican tickets,each promising a return of production and employment.

Appalachiancoal magnate Jim Justice trounced state senator Jeff Kessler and former U.S. AttorneyBooth Goodwin in the Democratic primary, ending the contest with over 50% of thevote. The other votes were about evenly split between the two remaining candidates.

Justice,who owns coal assets in the state as well as the Greenbrier Resort, offered strongsupport for a coal industry recovery and the increased use of locally produced coalfor electricity generation.

Whilehe has previously offered cautious optimism about a full return of the state's coalindustry, Justice emerged as the most assertive about a recovery during the primarycampaign, arguing for the greater use of coal at West Virginia power plants andexporting local coal at increased rates.

"Iam telling you and you just mark it down," Justice said during a radio interviewin the final weeks of the campaign. "Jim Justice is telling you today two things.We are going to end up in West Virginia mining more coal in West Virginia than hasever been mined before. Mark it down. And the other thing is we've got to be diversifiedoff the chart, because even when we were mining coal at our highest levels we werestill 50th at everything coming or going."

SNL Image

West Virginia Democratic Senate candidate Jim Justice
Source: Jim Justice

Justice'sfocus on coal earned him the support of the United Mine Workers of America, whoargued that "no candidate in the West Virginia governor's race knows the coalindustry better than Jim Justice."

Justice'sopponent, Kessler, offereda far more cautious approachto the industry, telling S&P Global Market Intelligence that the state sectorwas "waiting for someone to tell them the truth" about the prospect ofa full recovery.

By winningthe nomination, Justice will now square off against Republican state Sen. Bill Cole,who ran virtually unopposed in the party primary. Cole recently offered his endorsementand support for the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump,joining him on stage duringa speech in Charleston, W.Va., during which Trump promised to aid the state's ailingcoal industry.

"DonaldTrump understands business and economics. He knows how to create jobs. And, mostof all he has spoken out for revitalizing our coal industry," Cole said ina release announcing his support. Cole's approach to the industry downturnechoed a familiar line of attack on federal policies introduced by the Obama administration.

"PresidentObama's war on coal has decimated both our state and local economies," Colesaid in January. "It has laid off miners, hurt families, and placed an unduestrain on our state and local budgets. The future of coal will be a critical issuefor the next governor to address."

Colereiterated this approach in comments made shortly after the primary concluded May10. "I stand with Donald Trump because he will stop the EPA's assault on ourcoal industry and allow us to put our coal miners back to work," Cole said."Whoever my opponent ends up being tonight, understand, they voted for eitherHillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders today. And, while it appears Bernie will win WestVirginia, neither he nor Hillary will provide us the opportunity to grow our energysector. In fact, they will destroy our energy industry and cost West Virginia thousandsand thousands of associated jobs."

The candidatesare running to replace Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who can no longer run due to the state'sterm limits. Tomblin did not endorse a Democrat in the state primary.

Clinton continues coal countryslide

On thepresidential level, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton lost the state to Sen.Bernie Sanders by a significant margin after comments she made about the future of the industry becamea focal point for critics.

WhileSanders has proposed an accelerated move away from fossil fuels of any kind, Clintonlost significant support in the coal-producing state after she commented that "we'regoing to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?"at a Ohio campaign event.

Whileshe was speaking about the need for economic assistance in coal producing regions,the comments quickly became fodder for West Virginia critics. A trip to the state,a call for a "MarshallPlan" for the region and letter to Sen. Joe Manchin explaining her commentsfailed to ease concerns about her approach to the industry.

Clintonultimately lost West Virginia with 36% to Sanders' 51.4%, though her delegate leadcurrently looks to be insurmountable in the remaining primaries.

Whileindustry job losses have been felt across the country, West Virginia has been oneof the hardest hit regionsalongside Kentucky.