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Coal-powered Republican candidates go to war with EPA in battleground states

The EPA’s “war on coal” has become a major campaign talking point for Republicans in Senate battleground states.

“Coal is a blessing,” Josh Mandel, Republican Senate challenger to Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown, told a crowd in eastern Ohio. “There are some who are trying to convince the country that coal is a liability… It’s not a Democratic or Republican issue. It’s an economic issue.”

Similarly, GOP Senate hopefuls in coal states have tied their opponents to what they describe as the Obama administration’s war on coal.

“As the owner of several coal-mining companies, I was on the receiving end of the President’s and Bob Casey’s costly, job-killing regulations,” said Tom Smith, Republican challenger to Democratic Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.

“The EPA right now is strangling the coal industry,” said Republican Senate candidate John Raese of West Virginia.

Democrats are trying distancing themselves from Obama’s coal policies.

“This is politics at its worst.  Anyone who would try to claim that Senator Manchin does not stand up for coal and West Virginia’s miners is either out of touch or been out of state for too long,” said Kathy Cosco, communications director for West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s campaign.

However, Brown and Casey have been criticized for voting in favor of the EPA’s Utility MACT rule, which aims to reduce hazardous emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Mandel issued a press release criticizing Brown for voting 22 times on measures that would hurt Ohio coal. Similarly, Smith attacked Casey for also voting in favor of the Utility MACT.

“The President’s EPA has clearly declared a war on coal – an industry crucial to our economy and Sen. Casey has done nothing to support the energy industry and the Pennsylvania jobs it creates,” Smith said in a statement.

The rule has been called one of the most expensive regulations ever for power plants by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and derided by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for the excessive burden it places on industry.

“Pennsylvanians know better than most the importance of balancing the economic benefits of coal with the safety of our communities, Casey said in a statement. “I voted against this resolution after talking to my constituents and after careful consideration in the best interest of the Commonwealth.”

Manchin voted against implementing the Utility MACT, saying “enough is enough” and that the rule would have “devastating effects on our families, jobs and economy.”

He has also confirmed that he will not be attending the Democratic National Convention this year.

Coal companies have also shown strong support for Republican challengers to incumbent Democrats in coal states.

Josh Mandel has received $84,000 from coal companies and groups this election cycle and Tom Smith has received $20,500, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Still a strong ally for coal interests, Senator Manchin still receives the most from the coal industry, raking in more than $190,000 this election cycle.

Despite their criticized record on coal, Sherrod and Casey have strong leads in the polls. Brown leads his opponent Mandel by nearly 8 percentage points and Casey has a 13-percentage-point lead on Smith, according to the RCP average.

However, in 2010 Pat Toomey beat Democratic opponent Joe Sestak in the Pennsylvania Senate race by a 2-point margin. That same year, Ohio GOP Senator Rob Portman also handily beat Democratic challenger Lee Fisher by an 18-point margin.

The past two months have seen several coal companies announce layoffs in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

In Pennsylvania, PBS Coals Inc. and its affiliate, RoxCoal Inc., laid off 225 workers working in deep and surface mines in Somerset County, citing low demand and aggressive regulations.

This month, OhioAmericanEnergy Inc., a subsidiary of Murray Energy Corp., announced layoffs in Jefferson County, Ohio after five years of operation and about 50 employees will be affected. Murray Energy cited Obama administration regulations as the reason for the idlings.

Consol Energy announced it would lay off 318 employees this month in Brickmore, West Virginia due to EPA regulations. Arch Coal and Alpha Natural resources have also announced plans to cut their workforce in the state due to EPA regulations.

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