09.25.12

Mining Coalition Guns for Obama

A new nonprofit coalition of mine workers and owners is attacking the administration’s environmental policies. They say they’re nonpartisan—but they’re focusing on swing states in a tight election. Can they have their cake and eat it, too?

Barack Obama’s chances of being reelected hinge on winning over blue-collar voters in the Midwest, but those efforts may have hit a hurdle—or run into a mine shaft, more like it—since a new nonprofit in the region started aggressively going after his administration. Mined in America, a 501(c)(4) created by an unlikely alliance of mine workers and mine owners, is running a series of attack ads against the Environmental Protection Agency, accusing the regulator of stifling resourcing mining that could boost the economy.

“Washington doesn’t get it,” reads one ad running across the region. “Remind environmental regulators to make Ohio jobs America’s priority.”

Also planned are calls and mailers to 500,000 voters in swing districts in the swing states of Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan to ask them to push Obama for job growth over more environmental rules. An online and social media campaign has begun as well.

Despite such microtargeting a few weeks before a tight presidential election, Mined in America insists it’s a nonpartisan group focused on education, not politics. As a 501(c)(4) social-welfare organization, the group isn’t required to disclose who’s funding it or how it’s spending money.

“It is not about President Obama winning or losing,” says Maurice Daniel, the executive director of the coalition, which includes manufacturers and labor unions. A lifelong Democrat, Daniel was the former political director for Al Gore when Gore was vice president. “We are not advocating for one candidate or another. What we are doing is educating the population about the issues at stake.”

Those issues have to do with the way the EPA implements its rules. Mined in America says the rules are arbitrary and unfair. It points to the Spruce Mine project in West Virginia, which the Army Corps of Engineers approved but whose permit was then revoked by the EPA, and to Pebble Mine in Alaska, where it says the EPA is blocking a permit before one has been officially submitted.

The EPA declined to comment for this story, but environmentalists say the EPA’s actions are entirely within its purview.

“What they are advocating for is horrendous,” said Anna Aurilio, director of the Washington D.C. office of Environment America. “What they are saying is that the EPA shouldn’t be able to clear permits for a mine, but that’s absolutely the EPA’s role. It’s like saying your doctor shouldn’t tell you to quit smoking.”

Daniel, who says “metal and mineral deposits are the building blocks of economic growth in this country,” says his group is in favor of environmental regulations; it merely wants those regulations to be clear and consistent. “There is uncertainty and haphazardness in how the rules are enforced, and it creates a level of discomfort. There is a reverberating effect on the culture and climate that sets the tone for any potential investors and as a result the jobs never come.”

“What they are saying is that the EPA shouldn’t be able to clear permits for a mine, but that’s absolutely the EPA’s role. It’s like saying your doctor shouldn’t tell you to quit smoking.”

With six weeks to go before the election, it remains to be seen if the forces behind Mined in America can pull off criticizing Obama’s handling of an environmental regulator among a key swing constituency, without helping to bring about his defeat—something it says it’s determined to avoid.

Pat Devlin, the CEO of the Michigan Building Trades Council, a coalition of construction unions, and an early backer of Mined in America, says he supported Obama in 2008 and will do so again in 2012. But that doesn’t mean he’s on board with the president’s environmental policies. “I know the president is being pulled in all directions,” says Devlin. “But you know what they say about the squeaky wheel.”