Hillary Clinton’s proposal for $30 billion in aid for people suffering from the decline of the coal industry drew a mixed-to-hostile response Thursday from critics of President Barack Obama’s environmental policies — raising doubts about whether she can arrest the Democratic Party’s electoral slide in coal country.
The package her campaign outlined includes billions of dollars to shore up coal workers’ pension benefits and retrain out-of-work miners or power plant employees to find jobs in other industries. It also includes spending on the so-far-elusive goal of developing “clean coal” technology that would capture and store coal-burning plants’ greenhouse gas pollution.
The plan, which is similar to proposals from Obama, is meant to help coal-dependent communities navigate the transition toward economies based on cleaner energy sources — something that could have an impact in key 2016 states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Colorado.
But industry supporters said it hardly makes up for Clinton’s championing of Obama climate and environmental policies that have helped spur the closings of dozens of coal plants across the country.
“It’s made-for-campaign rhetoric,” National Mining Association spokesman Luke Popovich said. “The administration has systemically eviscerated a high-wage industry, coal … and then offers welfare money. And rather than see opportunity to distance herself, she now appears to embrace those policies.”
Ed Yankovich, the United Mine Workers vice president for the district covering Pennsylvania and the Northeast, said it’s too early to say whether the plan might help Clinton with Democrats those areas, since Obama’s actions have alienated those who work in the industry from Democrats in general.
“People look at these folks and say, ‘they’ve completely abandoned us, it’s like we don’t live in America.’ There’s a distinct bitterness about it,” he said.
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