May 4, 2016

Coal Country Damage Control: Clinton’s Non-Apology Double-Down

Dan Byers

In early March, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton let slip an unusual campaign promise—unemployment for coal miners and bankruptcy for their employers:

“I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity — using clean, renewable energy as the key — into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal companies and coal miners out of business.”

Nothing says “economic opportunity” like putting people out of work.

The gaffe—or moment of candor, if you prefer— was a “me too” response to the growing popularity of Senator Bernie Sanders, who has made keeping fossil fuels “in the ground” a centerpiece of his campaign.

Now, with the nomination effectively secured, Secretary Clinton has embarked this week on a damage control tour of coal country, with visits in Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky.  At a diner in rural West Virginia yesterday, an emotional confrontation from unemployed miner Bo Copley helped to reveal Clinton’s true feelings on the issue. Here is a key part of the exchange, as reported by CNN (complete video here):

In one of the more intense interactions Clinton has had on the trail, Copley—growing emotional at times—pressed Clinton for her past statement and asked her, "How you can say you are going to put a lot of coal miners out of jobs and then come in here and tell us how you are going to be our friends?"  “I don’t know how to explain it other than what I said was totally out of context for what I meant because I have been talking about helping coal country for a very long time,” Clinton said. “It was a misstatement because what I was saying is the way things are going now, they will continue to lose jobs. It didn’t mean that we were going to do it. What I said is that is going to happen unless we take action to help and prevent it.” [Emphasis added.]

There are two key takeaways from Secretary Clinton’s response. First, the candidate is now suggesting that she was referring to energy markets, not her administration, when she promised to put coal miners out of business. The “my words were taken out of context” explanation is a common response to political gaffes, but struggling miners can be forgiven for failing to see how “we’re going to put you out of business” translates into “I want to help you.” I don’t think even Rosetta Stone can help with that one.

Even more glaring, though, is that Secretary Clinton says coal miners will lose their jobs “unless we take action to help and prevent it.” The actions that could prevent these losses are obvious and plentiful—scrapping the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, the Department of Interior’s devastating new surface mining regulations, and a bevy of other recent and looming rules that destroy coal jobs and dramatically limit use of our most plentiful, affordable, and reliable energy source.

But Secretary Clinton proudly supports those regulations that destroy coal jobs, and has every intention to see they are implemented and even further tightened under her watch. No amount of “clarification” or “context” will change that indisputable fact. Of course Secretary Clinton’s positions are largely an extension of the current President’s, who famously promised before taking office that he would bankrupt coal companies and cause electricity rates to “skyrocket” as a result.

More of the same policies means more of the same hardship for coal country, and that’s not good for American families and businesses. For this simple reason, it should come as no surprise when miners like Bo Copley view Mrs. Clinton’s promise of “help” with a heavy dose of skepticism.