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In eastern Ohio, coal fuels discontent with Obama

Bob and Dorothy Glover on their property in Hopedale, Ohio, Wednesday.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

The people of this eastern Ohio region believe they are at war – with the Obama administration. Which is odd, considering that about 75 per cent of the men and women in the area routinely vote Democrat, and they supported Barack Obama in 2008 in large numbers.

The war is over coal and the administration's policies to curtail its use in heating and power generation. Those are fighting words to this blue-collar district whose men have mined coal for more than a century and all of whose citizens have a stake in the mining and related industries.

The issue is so worrisome that many of those life-long Democrats are casting their ballots this election against Mr. Obama – one of the factors that is putting into doubt a repeat of the President's decisive 2008 victory in this key swing state.

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"It made me change my vote," said Democrat Hooty McKee, a 50-something miner at the Hopedale Mine, 10 kilometres north of Cadiz.

Not surprisingly, some of the 170 workers at the mine are distributing lawns signs for people to display: "Stop the War on Coal – FIRE OBAMA," they all read.

And while Hopedale is a non-union operation, even the area's unions – mineworkers and others – are helping in the campaign, despite the Obama administration's generally pro-union policies.

And not just miners are voting against Mr. Obama.

"I already did," said Dwayne Davis, a retired teacher, and an independent voter. "I only vote when the national situation is really bad," he said. "I voted against Jimmy Carter in 1980 [casting his ballot for Ronald Reagan], and I voted against Obama last week [in early balloting]."

"This whole region needs the industry," said librarian Greta Christian, a registered Democrat. Ms. Christian says she's not sure she can vote for the man she helped elect last time. "I just don't know," she said, a look of pain on her face.

Dorothy Glover and her husband, Bob, registered independents, were so incensed by what is happening they paid to have a billboard advertisement placed on Highway 22 denouncing Obama policies.

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Ms. Glover runs a small company that reclaims and replants land used by mines.

Interestingly, in the 1950s and 60s, there had been another save-the-mines campaign because of a policy to have mining companies pay to restore mined land. Owners objected and threatened to close the mines; worried workers fought the new approach. But the industry survived and the hills of eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania are much the prettier for it.

"It's never been as bad as this," said Mr. Glover, a sheep farmer. "Our whole way of life is under threat.

Hopedale's owners have been attempting to open another mine a few kilometres to the east of their current operation, but have been tied up in unusually demanding red tape, said a knowledgeable company source who spoke anonymously as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

"If they can't stop us directly, the government is using regulations to prevent us from functioning," said the company employee.

Interestingly, Mr. Obama in his debate this week with Republican candidate Mitt Romney cited "clean coal" as one of the elements in the array of future energy sources the President envisioned.

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The reference to "clean coal" made people here snort. No, not because it's an oxymoron, but because burning coal cleanly isn't a guarantee that the government will allow a power plant to operate, people say.

Indeed, on the highway north from Steubenville, on the west shore of the Ohio River, sits idle an ultramodern updated coal-fired power plant, the W.H. Sammis. Its new smoke stack is enormously large in diameter, a result of housing so-called "scrubbers" – all at a reported cost of more than $1-billion (U.S).

In August, local papers reported the facility would be all but shut down for the foreseeable future owing to federal restrictions. Mountains of coal from the Hopedale Mine continue to build up outside the plant, as the owners are honouring their contract to purchase the fuel.

"They are doing this until next month," a mine official said, "waiting to see who wins the election."

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More


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