Romney Defends Coal Record on Stump for W.Va. Senate Hopeful

BECKLEY, W.Va. — As endorsements go, Senate candidate Shelley Moore Capito could do a lot worse than the man who trounced President Barack Obama in West Virginia two years ago.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, headlined a rally here on Tuesday for Capito and two U.S. House candidates, Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins. Capito, a seven-term congresswoman representing the state’s 2nd district, is seeking the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) She faces Democratic nominee and West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in the Nov. 4 election.

With Obama’s reputation in West Virginia in tatters — due in no small part to his support for strict new limitations on coal-fired power plants — and Romney having won all 55 of the state’s counties in 2012, the political scion and former governor was the perfect surrogate to rally Mountain State voters, analysts say.

“[Romney] won 62 percent of the vote in West Virginia,” notes political analyst Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an election-forecasting site at the University of Virginia. “So he’s good for rallying some troops and bucking up support for Capito.”

With a large American flag and campaign signs for Capito, Mooney and Jenkins serving as their backdrop, Romney and the three candidates took the stage to a standing ovation from a crowd of about 500 at the Tamarack conference center here.

“We Republicans, we conservatives care about education and family and energy and good jobs,” Romney said after officially endorsing Capito and the two House hopefuls. “So I know we have the team here that we need to get this country going again.”

The topics listed by Romney during his speech are typical bread-and-butter issues for both Republicans and Democrats. But energy, in particular, is one that resonates in West Virginia like no other. The state’s identity, fiscally and culturally, is closely tied to coal, and the already struggling industry is bracing for the fallout from Obama’s plan to curb coal-plant emissions.

Coal lobbyists and industry officials say the new regulations would cost the state mining jobs and coal-related revenue, and would hit the poor especially hard in the form of higher heating bills. Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency say the new rules are needed to curb carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. Many scientists say the warming of the planet has already led to more severe and more frequent storms, threatening lives and leading to billions of dollars in damage and lost revenue.

Many Republicans, and some Democrats, including Tennant, have decried the new rules as needless overregulation that will sound the death knell of West Virginia coal.

Romney and Capito, however, say Tennant has proven herself a loyal acolyte of Obama’s with her support for him during both the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. The former GOP standard-bearer says electing Republicans to Congress will help combat the president’s “job-killing” policies.

“This is the team that’s going to Washington,” Romney told the crowd. “And they’re going to stand for coal.”

But Tennant’s campaign has fought back, pointing to a 2003 speech in which Romney denounced a coal-powered facility.

“That plant kills people,” then-Governor Romney said as he stood in front of a polluted coal plant in Salem, Mass.

Tennant’s camp says it’s hypocritical for Capito to criticize the Democrat’s appearance last month with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a liberal who supports the EPA’s coal-plant regulations, while accepting the endorsement of a man who made it a mission to shut down coal-powered plants in the Bay State.

“The fact that Congresswoman Capito would align herself with someone who believes coal ‘kills people’ just to make a quick buck shows how quickly she will turn her back on West Virginia coal miners to get Wall Street dollars,” Tennant spokeswoman Jennifer Donohue said in a statement following the announcement of Romney’s visit last week.

Republicans point out, though, that Romney wasn’t targeting coal, per se, during his time as Massachusetts governor. Rather, it was heavily polluted plants with a history of environmental violations, they say.