Arnold Paul, via Wikimedia Commons

As candidates to become Kentucky’s next governor scramble to pledge allegiance to the coal industry, there’s one question they’re not addressing: Does burning coal contribute to climate change?

None of the three announced candidates for governor—former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, both Republicans; nor Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway—have offered a statement one way or another about whether they agree with the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels like coal makes the planet warmer and destabilizing the climate.

Here’s an essential Kentucky political truth: politics and the state’s coal industry are intertwined.

That’s one of the reasons both of Kentucky’s Senate candidates—Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes—have been nearly indistinguishable on the subject.

But coal’s fortunes in Kentucky have been declining for decades. 

A report linking Republican Mitch McConnell’s wife to an aggressive anti-coal campaign has drawn angry reactions from the Kentucky senator’s re-election team.

McConnell is on a two-day bus tour in the eastern half of the state, countering stops earlier this week by Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

On Wednesday, Grimes told a Hazard audience that  she was the more pro-coal candidate.

Why do we keep talking about a "War on Coal?" 

TVA Sued Over Muhlenberg Co. Coal-Fired Unit Closures

Jul 10, 2014
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A lawsuit has been filed against the Tennessee Valley Authority over its plans to shut down two coal-fired units at plant in Muhlenberg County.

Lawmakers Skewer EPA, Obama Over Coal Regulations

Jul 4, 2014
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A panel of Kentucky lawmakers is criticizing an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants

Members of the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment targeted the regulations Thursday which will require a nationwide 30 percent reduction in the gas that climate scientist say contribute to climate change.

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Members of the Kentucky interim joint committee on natural resources and the environment and a special energy subcommittee got an update Thursday on where natural gas is, and where it could head, in Kentucky.

Republican State Senator Jared Carpenter is chair of both committees and says natural gas will grow as a portion of the state’s energy sources, but not at the expense of coal.

“I think they are going to be a major player now, because the federal regulations are being so impossible, to reach the regulations they're wanting to pass. Coal is going to be impacted by it, like it has been, but coal's not going to go anywhere. Everybody understands the importance of 

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Construction crews have cleared about 60 percent of the land needed to begin building a new natural gas plant at the Paradise Fossil Plant in Muhlenberg County. The new plant is scheduled to open by Spring of 2017, and will take the place of two coal burning units currently in operation at the Tennessee Valley Authority facility. 

Arnold Paul, via Wikimedia Commons

The new Environmental Protection Agency rules seek to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030.  State's heavily dependent on coal, like Kentucky, are expected to have some flexibility in meeting a new standard.  Still, Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett believes an already diminished eastern Kentucky mining industry would suffer more job losses and says the potential impact goes beyond the coal fields to all manufacturers.

The air in Richwood, W.Va., is saturated with the smell of ramps — a pungent, garlicky, peppery smell so strong that it eclipses almost everything else in the room. Under this smell there's the faint aroma of bacon grease, in which the ramps have been fried. They're served with brown beans and ham.

As hundreds of people wait in line for their meal, local songwriter John Wyatt plays his Richwood Ramp Song, including this verse: