The House is spending its last legislative day before the elections voting on political-messaging legislation aimed at undermining the Obama administration's environmental regulations.
The package of GOP bills, dubbed the "Stop the War on Coal Act," attacks Environmental Protection Agency regulations that Republicans contend are killing coal-industry jobs. The floor debate and votes will give Republicans ammunition to use against President Obama and House Democrats in coal-producing battleground states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
"The [Republicans] believe ... that talking about energy helps them, because it emphasizes that the president is indifferent to coal. That is important in Ohio, Virginia, and Montana," said Michael McKenna, a GOP lobbyist for the energy industry. "If you have any doubt about how this plays, take a look at Ohio, where the president's campaign is running ads touting his record on helping coal and trying to portray [Mitt]Romney as the anti-coal candidate."
To that point, Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher on Thursday played up how Obama has been a friend to the coal industry without commenting on the House bills.
"The coal-mining industry in Ohio has increased 10 percent since President Obama took office," Fetcher said. "In contrast, Governor Romney denied a [Massachusetts] coal plant an extension to comply with regulations, claiming that he will not "˜protect jobs that kill people.' "
But the White House on Wednesday threatened to veto the House GOP legislation if it passed, noting that the package "would undermine landmark environmental laws and adversely affect public health, the economy, and the environment."
The bills take aim at the EPA's power to regulate the coal industry, including its greenhouse-gas emission rules and standards governing the disposal of waste from coal-fired power plants. But even pro-coal groups acknowledge that the bills have no legislative future.
"We'd love to see the package go through," said Lisa Camooso Miller, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. "The political reality is the House is going to move this week, and we'll see no more activity until after Election Day. For our purposes, this is a great opportunity to talk about it."
Still, trade and business groups have been spending money to push the bills; ACCCE lobbied for the legislation this year and last. Miller said the vote is "super well-timed and highly politically charged," and that "it definitely helps our cause" to bring attention to it. Her group released a report this week to show that independent and Democratic voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia strongly support coal.
Just this month, Mike Duncan joined the clean-coal group as its chief executive. Duncan is the founding and current chairman of conservative American Crossroads and is a well-known Republican political operative.