The PG's Erich Schwartzel had a nice story Sunday on the coal industry's aggressive attempts this year to defeat Barack Obama and elect Mitt Romney president. The story has context on the challenges coal faces from cheaper natural gas and has a telling quote from a mine owner who hosted Romney in Beallsville, Ohio, on Aug. 14:
Increased competition from cheap natural gas and Environmental Protection Agency decisions to shutter dozens of coal-fired power plants have led to unprecedented drops in coal demand.
Last month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that domestic coal- and natural gas-powered generation were equal for the first time since the agency began calculating the information.
"What is depressing the coal industry is probably more due to the gas than what Obama has done," conceded Robert E. Murray, the president and chief executive officer of bituminous coal mine firm Murray Energy in Pepper Pike, Ohio.
Mr. Murray said natural gas started to compete as a power plant supplier when gas prices hit $3.50 per Mcf. Gas has been below that price since October 2011.
It turns out that Murray forced his (non-union) employees to attend the Romney event. The workers complained to a WWVA-AM's David Blomquist (a well-known conservative talk radio host in Wheeling; the station's HQ is adjacent to the historic Capitol Music Hall) about the political pressures they face at the mine, and the fact that the Romney event forced them to miss a day's pay.
Employees who contacted Blomquist and others in the industry contend that the August event is the latest example of the lengths Murray is willing to go to back his political priorities. In the days just after the rally, about seven or eight mine workers, supposedly independent of one another, emailed and called Blomquist to tell him about the circumstances surrounding the rally. The radio host, known as Bloomdaddy, said once he began talking about the issue on the air, he was contacted by other current and former Murray employees, bringing the number of those sharing the same concerns to 15 to 20 people.
The wife of an hourly employee at the Century mine said in an interview with the Washington Bureau the event was mandatory, and that workers were told to arrive at 8 a.m. to a local school, where they registered to attend the rally and then waited much of the day to be bused to the mine. The schedule ate into her husband's free time, which bothered him, she said. She said she did not want to be identified for fear her husband would lose his job.
"He was really upset that they took his free time with his family away from him," she said. In general, she said "he felt like they were pushing the Republican choice on him and he felt a little intimidated by that."
Blomquist's correspondents said they are routinely pressured to donate to Republican causes and that the company keeps track of who gives and who doesn't. Workers sometimes have their pay envelopes stuffed with political literature, the employee's wife said.