Mitch McConnell and the Coal Industry’s Last Stand – by Paul Barrett and Jim Rowley Bloomberg News – December 23, 2015)

Shale gas, solar, wind, new regulations and environmentalists have put relentless pressure on coal. But the Senate majority leader still believes he can stem the tide.

A ballad called “Coal Keeps the Lights On” took singer-songwriter Jimmy Rose of tiny Pineville, Ky., all the way to the finals of America’s Got Talent in the summer of 2013. AGT judges Howard Stern, the radio shock jock, comedian Howie Mandel, and supermodel Heidi Klum cheered and clapped. “That was a damn good song,” Stern declared.

Rose, a 36-year-old former coal miner, says highlighting the industry’s plight was a deliberate choice: “It’s a song about a way of life that’s in danger of disappearing.”

Almost exactly a year later, the singer’s minor celebrity took him to a less likely venue: the ornate main hearing room of the Environmental Protection Agency, where he testified at the invitation of Mitch McConnell as part of the Senate majority leader’s defense of coal. The effusive Rose and the dour McConnell made an odd pair.

When Rose stood to lead a spontaneous Pledge of Allegiance, an evidently surprised McConnell had to scramble awkwardly to his feet. Rose went on to outshine McConnell with a passionate condemnation of EPA regulations he said are turning eastern Kentucky into “a war zone.” “You won’t come to this poverty-stricken area,” he lectured EPA officials. “You won’t come and look my people in the eye.”

Rarely dramatic, McConnell read his testimony in a characteristic drone. Even though he’s from Kentucky, the lawmaker doesn’t claim long-standing ties to coal. Before coming to the Senate, he says, “as a lawyer in Louisville, was I paying attention to coal? Not much.”

But since President Obama took office in 2009, vowing to combat climate change, McConnell has positioned himself as coal’s bulwark—a central element of his across-the-board campaign to thwart the president politically.

Coal needs all the friends it can get. The industry is under siege from federal regulation, most recently Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which went into effect on Oct. 23 and seeks to reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030. Consumers and activists, meanwhile, are persuading utilities to close aging coal-fired power plants.

With funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign has helped shut down more than 220 coal facilities over the past five years. (Bloomberg Philanthropies was created by Michael Bloomberg, founder and owner of Bloomberg LP, which publishes this website.)

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