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As TV ads kick off in W.Va.’s U.S. Senate race, coal is still the theme

West Virginians have seen more ads for the Senate campaigns in neighboring states than the one happening in the Mountain State. That will begin to change Monday, but the primary tenor of the campaign — promises from both candidates to stand up for coal and fight Environmental Protection Agency regulations — will not.

Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant has bought about $120,000 of television time to show an ad — the first from any candidate in the race — in which she, literally, turns the lights off at the White House.

The ad, which the Tennant campaign says will reach 75 percent of West Virginians, opens on a scene of the White House with Tennant asking, “Where do they think their electricity comes from?” The camera pans to power lines leading back to a coal-fired power plant.

“You and I know it’s our hard-working West Virginia coal miners that power America,” Tennant says, as she cuts the power and the lights go out with a boom at the White House. “I’ll make sure President Obama gets the message.”

The EPA, in June, released a much-anticipated proposal to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants in an effort to combat climate change.

While both Tennant and her opponent, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., have said they are strongly against the proposal, the Capito campaign has used it to attack. Capito has consistently tried to link Tennant to national Democrats who support the EPA regulations.

A news release sent Friday from the Capito campaign mentioned not only the president, but also Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; and Hollywood producers and big Democratic Party donors Steven Spielberg and Harvey Weinstein.

The release calls Tennant the “new darling of anti-coal extremists.”

It was the latest iteration of a consistent message.

The Capito campaign has sent 36 news releases since the first of May, and 30 of them talk about coal. They accuse Tennant of reversing her position on coal, being anti-coal and refusing to acknowledge a “war on coal.”

Tennant, meanwhile, has touted a coal and energy agenda, in which she opposes EPA regulations, supports increased coal exports and supports new research and investment in technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration to reduce pollution from coal.

When, earlier this month, both candidates held campaign events on the same day with high-profile guests, similar themes emerged.

In Charleston, Capito and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the former Republican vice-presidential nominee, attacked Tennant for appearing with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in Shepherdstown.

Warren supports the EPA regulations, but she and Tennant stressed that coal and energy policy are issues on which they disagree.

“I am pro-coal; I am pro-coal miner,” Tennant said. “I will stand up to anyone who tries to hurt our coal jobs.”

In 2013, coal provided 39 percent of the electricity in the country. If the regulations, so vilified by both candidates, went into effect, that number would fall to 30 percent in 2030, according to EPA estimates.

Capito and other Republicans are loath to acknowledge global warming, which the EPA regulations attempt to address. Capito has consistently declined to answer when asked if she agrees with the overwhelming scientific consensus that man-made carbon emissions are causing global warming. Amy Graham, Capito’s campaign spokeswoman did not respond when asked again Saturday.

Capito also has voted for recent legislation that would prevent the departments of Defense and Energy from considering the recommendations of the most recent comprehensive reports on climate change.

In the ongoing battle over each candidate’s record on coal, Tennant’s campaign recently sent the Gazette-Mail an older letter hinting that Capito might not have always been so reluctant to talk about climate change.

While few would question Capito’s support of coal, Tennant’s campaign pointed to a letter that Capito wrote to the Department of Energy in 2009, requesting funds for a West Virginia manufacturing plant from the federal stimulus package.

“America’s abundant manufacturing capabilities will expedite the nation’s shift away from fossil fuels, reduce dependence on foreign oil and speed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” Capito wrote to then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “As you review [the] application, you will find that the two energy efficiency investments proposed will vastly reduce energy consumption and significantly reduce the plant’s carbon footprint.”

Graham said the letter was written in support of Constellium’s aluminum rolling plant in Ravenswood, which, a few months earlier, had ceased operations.

“Shelley Moore Capito’s number one priority is jobs,” Graham wrote in an email. “She has always supported an all-of-the-above energy plan that includes coal, gas, biofuels, wind, solar and any energy source that will support jobs in West Virginia.”

Reach David Gutman at, 304-348-5119 or follow @davidlgutman on Twitter.

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