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Political blame game plays out after Ohio coal mine operation shuts down

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Fri August 3, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • OhioAmerican Energy's coal mining operation near Brilliant, Ohio, is shuttering 5 years early
  • Obama's regulatory actions are "the entire reason" for the closure, the company says
  • The White House denies a "war on coal," noting recent jumps in coal production and exports
  • "Public health should (not) be used as a political football," an environmentalist says

(CNN) -- The leader of a shuttering Ohio coal mining operation on Friday blamed the Obama administration for the shutdown and for hurting the economy generally with he called a "war on coal," an assertion the White House pushed back on as false and misleading.

OhioAmerican Energy, which is a subsidiary of Murray Energy Corporation, issued a statement announcing its coal mining operations near Brilliant, in southeastern Ohio, would be closing five years earlier than expected.

Its founder, Robert Murray, personally went to tell the operation's employees there that they were being laid off. The company said that the operation employed 239 people "at its peak," though there were no firm numbers as to the number that lost their jobs Friday beyond that 32 would be reassigned to other positions.

Company leaders -- who have been donors to Republicans -- claimed the "regulatory actions by President Barack Obama and his appointees and followers (are) the entire reason" for the closure. In fact, they predicted more layoffs to come unless there is a major shift in the political landscape.

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"There will be additional layoffs, not only at Murray Energy, but also throughout the United States coal industry due to Mr. Obama's 'war on coal' and the destruction that it has caused so many jobs and families in the Ohio Valley area and elsewhere," Murray said.

Yet White House spokesman Clark Stevens rebutted that view, pointing to "flexibilities for clean coal standards over the last three years" and the fact U.S. coal production is on the upswing. There were more U.S. coal miners working this year, for instance, than any year since 1997 and U.S. coal exports rose 31% over the previous year, he said.

"The president has made clear that coal has an important role in our energy economy today, and it will in the future," Stevens said. "(That) is why the administration has worked to make sure that, moving forward, we can continue to rely on a broad range of domestic energy sources from oil to gas, to wind and solar, to nuclear, as well as clean coal."

Ohio is considered a key swing state in this fall's presidential election, in which Obama faces presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

By the numbers: Why Ohio matters

Top Murray Energy officials had made their allegiances clear before the announcement: Murray, the corporation's CEO, is a major GOP donor having donated more than $150,000 to Republicans in 2012 alone, and Murray Energy's political action committee has similarly given Republicans upwards of $100,000 in the past year.

Stanley Piasecki, the superintendent of the closing OhioAmerican Energy coal mine, claimed Thursday that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden both intend to "destroy so many lives and family livelihoods in this area for no benefit whatsoever."

Yet Brandon Unklesbay, the manager of Southeastern Equipment in Brilliant, said he didn't believe the coal mining operations closure will negatively impact the area or its businesses.

"It's not going to hurt my business," Unklesbay said.

David Celebrezze, director of Air and Water Special Projects with the environmental group the Ohio Environmental Council, said that he and his group favor clean energy measures and curing what he described as Ohio's addiction to coal.

Many of the coal-related regulations being enforced now, he said, are "not really new" -- having been passed, in some form, in 1990 as part of the Clean Air Act. Rather than pay lobbyists to fight such rules or to inject themselves into the 2012 presidential race, Celebrezze said he'd prefer that utilities focus first on "cleaning up their act" so that residents can breathe, and live, better.

"We don't think that public health should be used as a political football," he said.

Obama campaign sues over Ohio's cutoff date for early voting

Obama blasts Romney tax plan in Ohio

CNN's Maxwell Caron, Adam Aigner-Treworgy and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

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