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Latest presidential debate dives into the coal economy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Coal and West Virginia were in the spotlight during the final minutes of Sunday night’s presidential debate.

Republican Donald Trump advocated for clean coal technology and contended that the Environmental Protection Agency’s policies are putting miners and others in fossil fuels industries out of work.

Democrat Hillary Clinton said she would like to see a clean energy revolution create new jobs, but she pointed to her plan, which includes a proposed $30 billion in aid to economically-struggling coal communities, as an attempt to keep from leaving coal communities behind.

Trump and Clinton were responding to the next-to-last question of the night, posed by audience member Ken Bone: “What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss from power plant workers?”

Trump accused Clinton of wanting to put coal miners out of work. He also touted “clean coal” technology.

“There is a thing called clean coal. Coal will last for a thousand years in our country,” Trump said.

“I will bring our energy companies back, they’ll be able to compete, they’ll make money they’ll pay off our budget deficits which are tremendous. But we are putting our energy companies out of business.”

Trump blasted the Environmental Protection Agency, contending its overreach puts undue burden on energy states like West Virginia.

“We have to guard our energy companies, Trump said. “We have to make it possible. The EPA is so restrictive that they are putting our energy companies out of business. All you have to do is go to a great place like West Virginia or a place like Ohio, which is phenomenal, or places like Pennsylvania and you see what they’re doing to the people, miners and others, in the energy business. It’s a disgrace.”

Clinton said America is now energy-independent, meaning it doesn’t have to import its power sources. She noted the growth of the natural gas industry,, which she called a bridge to renewable fuels.

“We’ve got to remain energy-independent,” she said. “It gives us much more power and freedom than to be worried about what goes on in the Middle East.”

She touted efforts to evolve toward use of more renewables like wind and solar — but said her policies would be sensitive to the economic hardships of communities that have benefited from coal mining.

“I support moving toward more clean renewable energy as quickly as we can. I think we can be the 21st century clean energy superpower and create millions of new jobs and businesses,” she said.

“But I also want to be sure we don’t leave people behind. That’s why I’m the only candidate from the very beginning of this campaign who had a plan to help us revitalize coal country because those coal miners and their fathers and their grandfathers they dug that coal out, lot of them lost their lives, they were injured, but they turned the lights on and they powered our factories. I don’t want to walk away from them, so we’ve got to do something for them.”

ALSO READ: The legislation that energy states and climate advocates are backing

An in-the-moment fact-check produced by the Los Angeles Times didn’t particularly knock either candidate for their comments:

“The coal industry is down, as both candidates have acknowledged, but that change can also be traced to market forces and the increase in natural gas production — the ‘tremendous wealth right under our feet’ that Trump mentioned Sunday night at the debate,” The L.A. Times wrote.

“Clinton noted that the increase in natural gas production serves as a transitional ‘bridge to more renewable fuels’ but that coal country is in need of revitalization. Energy generated from natural gas has gained while power generated from coal has declined over the last decade; those two sources were almost equal in 2015.”

An Associated Press fact-check questioned Trump’s claim that Clinton wants to put coal miners out of work. AP noted: “Coal companies have been battered by the rise of natural gas production more than by Obama administration regulations — although those have not helped.”

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