WASHINGTON – In her 2008 bid for the White House, Hillary Clinton cast herself as a blue-collar Democrat who was unabashedly pro-coal, a stance that helped her beat opponent Barack Obama easily in primaries in states that produced or were reliant on coal.
Eight years later, a Reuters review of her recent campaign speeches and policy announcements shows that the great-granddaughter of a Welsh coal miner is now talking about the coal industry in the past tense.
The little-noticed shift in rhetoric speaks volumes about how the United States’ energy landscape has changed since Clinton last campaigned in 2008: oil and gas fracking have exploded and cheap natural gas has taken a huge bite out of coal.
In the intervening years the Obama administration has also proposed aggressive measures to tamp down greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels like coal, while once-powerful coal companies like Alpha Natural Resources, which declared bankruptcy last week, have lost their political clout.
The shift by Clinton is not without significant political risk. She will have to walk a fine line in trying to please the progressive activists she needs to win her party’s nomination and working-class “swing” voters whose support will be crucial for the general election in November 2016. Ohio and Pennsylvania, in particular, have a lot of electoral votes, which are key to electing a new president.
Mindful of that, Clinton has been careful to pay tribute to the contribution coal miners have made to the American economy, but she has also made clear that they should be helped to find new jobs, and a new way of life.
Ed Rendell, former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania and Clinton ally, said an economic case for addressing climate change could resonate in his state, where the coal industry employs more than 36,000 directly and indirectly, according to the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance.
“Citizens, coal miners and executives are not dumb and they see the handwriting on the wall. Someone needs to tell them the truth and make it clear,” he said in an interview.
Clinton’s campaign declined to comment on the shift in her coal message or how she plans to appease both environmentalists and coal workers.
“VOODOO ENVIRONMENT CONCERNS”
Clinton was quick last week to praise President Obama’s stricter rules on coal-fired power plants, vowing to both defend and build on them.
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