Growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Joe Biden constantly heard people talk about the days when coal was king.
"Coming from a coal region, I know that coal is more than making a living, it's a way of life. It's not just your job, it's your community," Biden said, making a heartfelt appeal at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference Monday in an attempt to ward off criticism that the White House is waging a "war on coal."
The American coal industry is unquestionably in decline. Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have blamed President Obama for the industry's demise, accusing the administration of sabotaging miners by rolling out regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
On Monday, Biden made every effort to counter that narrative by telling a story of his own, talking about what it was like growing up in a coal community that took a hit when the industry fell on hard times in the 1950s.
Biden said his family eventually moved away from Scranton because there were few jobs left, but emphasized that family and neighbors never forgot "what the economy used to look like, how the economy used to thrive, how we had all these jobs."
Instead, Biden criticized "politicians and special interests" for setting up what he called a false choice between the idea that "you see coal as the key energy source for the future or you don't."
Biden went on to praise the administration's investment in clean energy jobs and defended Obama's push to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
"Folks, it's time we set limits on carbon pollution just like we set limits on deadly arsenic and lead," he said to cheers and applause.
Biden also touted administration proposals to help coal miners recover from the crash by assisting with job training and helping shore up pensions for coal miners.
"The people of coal mining regions of America have made considerable sacrifices ... and they did it before we became aware of the pollution," Biden said. "Now we're transitioning ... to new, cleaner energy and a new, cleaner energy economy and we can't leave them behind."