Even detractors of Hillary Clinton have to admit she has fortitude. You may object to her positions and even dislike her personally, but one cannot have traversed her life’s journey and end up as the first woman presidential nominee of either major party in the history of the country and not have an iron constitution.

Her husband referred to her determination a number of times during his speech Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention. “And you should elect her because she will never quit on you when the going gets tough,” Bill Clinton said.

That was Hillary Clinton’s message when she visited southern West Virginia just before the May Primary Election, where she had to answer for the infamous quote: “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?”

During her visit here, Clinton said that was a misstatement and her intent is to help coal mining communities that have been devastated by shutdowns and layoffs.  That’s a tough sell, and I doubt very many folks who have been impacted by the coal industry tumble bought it, but it took guts for her to come here.

Bill Clinton told the story Tuesday night from his perspective, relaying how his wife, “Sent me in this primary to West Virginia, where she knew we were going to lose, to look those coal miners in the eye and say, ‘I am down here because Hillary sent me to tell you that if you can get the economy back that you had 50 years ago, have at it; vote for whoever you want to. But if she wins, she is coming back for you to take you along on the ride to America’s future.”

The former president, however, set up a straw man argument. No one in West Virginia who has any knowledge of the coal industry expects coal to ever again be the overwhelmingly dominant source for electric power generation.  The emergence of hydraulic fracturing has unleashed massive reservoirs of natural gas that offer utilities a cheap alternative to coal.

The plea from coal country for the last eight years has been to simply level the playing field by getting the EPA to back off of its unilateral dictums that make it ever more difficult to mine coal and impossible to build a coal-fired power plant.  Coal production would be slumping regardless, because of market conditions, but the Obama administration’s climate policies have put coal in a no-win situation.

If you take the Clintons at their word, President Hillary Clinton would have more empathy than President Obama has had for economically ruined Appalachian communities. Clearly that has an appeal for some who believe in the inevitability of coal’s elimination and the efficacy of government economic development programs.

But the certainty of coal’s demise exists only because of Washington’s policies. Mrs. Clinton should understand that coal miners and their families have the same kind of perseverance that she is known for.  As President, she could honor that by reining in the EPA and allowing the coal industry to compete fairly for its share of the nation’s energy portfolio.

 

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