DENNISON U.S. Sen. Rob Portman stopped at the Tusky Mine on Wednesday to meet with coal miners as part of his 35-county “Countdown to Victory” RV Tour.
“I love doing these tours,” said Portman, who is running for reelection this year. “It gives us a chance to see what’s actually happening on the ground, how the policies in Washington are effecting jobs. In this case, we’ve got a coal mine that’s been shut down because of the war on coal.”
The mine, located just east of Dennison on Pleasant Valley Road, is operated by the Rosebud Coal Co. According to Gary Alkire, Rosebud’s manager of permitting in Ohio, the mine has been idled since last November.
At one time, the mine employed between 60 and 80 people.
The preparation plant is still in operation, but only on a limited basis. “We can only process the coal that we can sell,” Alkire said. “Right now, the way things are with these power plants closing in Ohio, our markets are severely reduced, so we’re having trouble selling the coal that we’re capable of making and producing here.”
Portman said he has introduced legislation in the Senate to burn coal more cleanly.
“I’d like to use our Ohio coal and our Ohio power plants, and give the power plants a tax incentive to burn it more cleanly,” he said.
During his tour of the Tusky Mine, the senator walked the grounds and went through the coal preparation plant.
Among those accompanying Portman was Jerry Murphy of New Athens, who works at Rosebud’s Vail Mine near Freeport. Murphy comes from a family of miners. His father, brother, brother-in-law and two uncles also are in the profession. Murphy has also appeared in campaign ads for the senator.
Portman said it’s important for someone in his position to see the impact that regulations written in Washington have on families and communities.
Speaking of Murphy, he said, “This is a family tradition, and they love it. They want to mine coal.”
Portman said he believes that coal has a future in Ohio.
“We still have a lot of coal-fired plants. Sixty-eight percent of us get our electricity from coal. Ohio is a coal state. We produce it, we move it, we burn it, we use it for electricity. In the past five and a half years, during this administration, the price of electricity for consumers has gone up 25 percent in Ohio. Federal regulations have resulted in the shutdown of 14 power plants already.”
The industry has been hit hard by the low price of coal, as well as competition from the natural gas industry. Construction has begun on a gas-fired power plant in Carrollton, and plans are in the works for another in Harrison County.
Portman said the availability of natural gas has had an impact on coal.
“That’s part of the issue, no question about it, but there’s room for both,” he said. “Natural gas can be used in so many other ways, for home heating and fuel, that you’re not going to look to coal for.”
He noted that an energy bill passed by the Senate would allow the export of natural gas, which would help increase energy production in eastern Ohio.
Portman also took a swipe at his opponent in the Senate race, former Gov. Ted Strickland. He said Strickland used to be pro-coal but now supports the regulations that coal company officials are worried about.
Christian Palich, president of the Ohio Coal Association, applauded Portman’s visit.
“That Sen. Portman came out here to hear first-hand what President Obama’s war on coal has done to eastern and southeastern Ohio shows he’s the friend of coal in the race for the United States Senate,” Palich said. “His opponent endorsed Hillary Clinton, who said she’s going to put coal miners like Jerry (Murphy) out of business. That’s unacceptable, so we really appreciate the senator coming out here and hearing first-hand what the issues of our companies are and going back to Washington and fighting for us. And that’s what he’s done in his first term and we know he’s going to do in his second.”
Portman’s “Countdown to Victory” tour will make 80 stops across the state, including 12 colleges, and will cover more than 4,000 miles.
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