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Ads attack Kerry's vote on mountaintop removal

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts rushed Friday to defend Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry from an attack ad that says Kerry supports a ban on mountaintop removal mining.

The ad, by a pro-business group with ties to the Bush administration, cites Kerry’s vote in 1999 against legislation to overturn a federal court ruling that limited mountaintop removal.

Byrd, author of the legislation, called the ad the latest example of “the Bush administration and its cronies ... playing fast and loose with the truth.”

Roberts said the ad shows that “the politics of fear and deception is rearing its ugly head throughout West Virginia.”

“John Kerry is not going to take away coal mining jobs,” Roberts said. “If he were, do people honestly think the UMWA would have given its endorsement to him?”

The Center for Responsive Politics says Americans for Job Security is “a pro-Republican, pro-business organization ... established to directly counter labor’s influence” in elections.

“It has run issue ads in key states for four cycles, and projected expanded activity in 2004,” the center says. “Its ads support ‘pro-market, pro-paycheck issues’ and candidates.”

Michael Dubke, president of Americans for Job Security, said his group was spending about $200,000 on the ad campaign.

The ads started Wednesday, and will run statewide through Sept. 2.

Dubke refused to release a list of his group’s members, who fund the organization with membership dues. He refused to say if any mining companies, mining company officials or industry trade associations are members.

David Carney, a former political adviser to George H.W. Bush, is a consultant to Americans for Job Security, Dubke said.

Carney is also founder of Norway Hill Associates, a consulting firm whose interns collected signatures for Ralph Nader’s candidacy near a Bush campaign stop earlier this month in New Hampshire, according to USA Today.

The group has been advised by lawyer Ben Ginsberg. On Wednesday, Ginsberg resigned from the Bush campaign after revealing that he gave advice to the group of Vietnam veterans who have leveled unsubstantiated attacks on Kerry’s military record.

The 15-second mountaintop removal ad, with images of coal miners and American flags, says that, “Our families need jobs and opportunity, but John Kerry’s support for a ban on mountaintop coal mining could put thousands of people out of work.”

In an interview, Dubke said that Kerry has “gone around the country and talked about shutting down the coal operations in West Virginia.”

The only example Dubke could provide was an October 2003 speech in New Hampshire when Kerry said, “Where we see a beautiful mountaintop, George Bush sees a strip mine.” In that case, Dubke erroneously said that the statement was made during an appearance by Kerry in Wheeling in April.

Amy Shuler Goodwin, spokeswoman for the Kerry campaign in West Virginia, said that the ad’s claim that Kerry supports a ban on mountaintop removal is false.

“A Kerry administration believes that we can mine coal and do it in an environmentally sound way,” Goodwin said. “We can find a balance between the two.”

The ad cites the 1999 vote in which Kerry went against an effort by Byrd, D-W.Va., to overturn a federal court ruling by then-U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II. Haden had ruled that a stream “buffer zone” rule prohibited valley fills in most waterways, allowing them only in smaller, ephemeral streams. Coal industry officials said that the ruling amounted to a ban on mountaintop removal; environmentalists said that industry concerns were overblown.

Byrd proposed to write into federal law an agreement among federal agencies to exempt fills from the buffer zone rule if they obtain Clean Water Act permits from the corps.

Kerry’s running mate, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., voted in favor of Byrd’s legislation.

When asked about mountaintop removal last week during a visit to Nitro, Edwards said, “What Senator Kerry and I believe is that there’s a way to allow the work that needs to be done here in West Virginia, including this work, to be accomplished and protect people’s jobs in a way that’s not damaging to the environment.”

On Friday, Byrd said, “This election isn’t just about who can best take care of coal companies. It’s about who will best take care of coal communities and coal miners and their families.

“I’m talking about pension protection, health care and black lung benefits,” Byrd said. “I’m talking about safety in the coal mines.

“I know West Virginia,” Byrd said. “I know coal. And I know that George W. Bush is no friend to coal miners.”

After the 1999 vote, the League of Conservation Voters included the 56-33 vote in favor of Byrd’s measure in its annual congressional scorecard.

The group noted that the House had already adjourned for the year, meaning that Byrd’s legislation — even though it passed the Senate — could not have become law, “making the vote largely symbolic.”

Earlier this month, though, League President Deb Callaghan cited that vote as proof of Kerry’s opposition to mountaintop removal.

Over the last four years, the Bush administration has made its support for mountaintop removal clear. Federal agencies have watered down a scientific study of the practice and weakened key water pollution and surface mining regulations meant to restrict mountaintop removal.

On other environmental issues, Kerry has been outspoken in his opposition to Bush administration regulatory rollbacks.

But, the campaign has repeatedly refused to comment on Bush rollbacks concerning mountaintop removal regulations.

Betsy Loyless, vice president for policy at the League of Conservation Voters, said that it is not surprising that Kerry is not speaking out against mountaintop removal when he campaigns in West Virginia.

“I would assume that one of the reasons the campaign is not speaking to this issue is that the issue is a multidimensional issue in West Virginia,” Loyless said. “There are a lot of different approaches to looking at this issue.”

A survey released in mid-July by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake showed that 56 percent of West Virginians oppose mountaintop removal.


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