Mitt Romney has accused President Barack Obama of waging a “war on coal” in an attempt to shift focus onto Obama’s oft-maligned energy policy. The problem is, though, that Obama is not responsible for coal’s recent failings; it’s the result of the rise in popularity of natural gas, coal’s natural competitor. Moreover, Romney is using the issue to create a wedge between Obama and working-class voters, claiming Obama cannot relate to their plight. Unfortunately for him, he will find it even harder to fit in in coal country than male model Derek Zoolander (as pictured).
Coal as an energy source has fallen out of favor lately, relative to its cleaner, cheaper fossil-fuel cousin, natural gas. As new methods for gas extraction have come into mainstream usage, including shale gas fracking, coal will see its status as energy king slide. Demand for coal, along with its price, has dropped dramatically in the past two years, and that trend looks to continue.
As proponents of a Romney presidency like to argue, our future should be dictated by the will of the free market. As it stands, it costs a natural gas-fired electric power plant roughly one-third the amount to produce a kilowatt of energy than a traditional coal-fired plant. Natural gas is just as abundant as coal in the U.S., and, at the current rate of consumption, it is estimated to provide power to the U.S. for another 92 years. It is not hard to see why this cleaner, more efficient natural resource is winning its battle with coal, its major competitor.
Earlier this year, however, conservatives, including Romney and his allies in the oil and gas industry, attacked Obama for enforcing strict regulations on gas extraction. When Obama responded to their request by issuing an executive order to reorganize how the federal government regulates the industry, effectively signalling an intent to expedite the shale gas fracking process, it was viewed as a reasonable concession by the President to his political opponents.
Suddenly, when the effects of long-term increases to both the production and the consumption of natural gas hit the coal industry, the result of steady pleas by conservatives to essentially “frack, baby, frack,” it is those very conservatives who cry foul. The GOP, never known for having a warm relationship with the working class, is using the plight of working class families against an Obama energy agenda that they played a significant hand in forcing.
It is not surprising then, in his attempt to force a schism between Obama and his working class supporters, Romney ironically overlooked the most important part of his newfound strategy: the workers themselves.
Robert Murray, a longtime supporter of Mitt Romney’s presidential aspirations and owner of the mine used as the backdrop in Romney’s attack ad, closed the mine and mandated that its employees attend the political rally. They were not allowed to work, thus they were not allowed to get paid, and yet we are told to believe Romney cares deeply for the working class. Obama fired back, exposing the hypocrisy of the millionaire, former private-equity executive Romney and his attempts to stand up for the common man.
Voters are unlikely to buy into this new Republican strategy. As recently as a month ago, polling data showed Obama held a staggering lead over his political opponent on the issue of energy policy. Add in the fact that Romney has been exposed for divisively stating that 47% of voters “are dependent upon the government, who believe they are the victims ... who will vote for this president no matter what,” and he will have a near-impossible job of portraying himself as a champion of the common miner. For the sake of his campaign, perhaps he can learn from Derek Zoolander’s mistake and stop pretending to be what he is not.