Coal poised for rare win over Obama

The coal industry is poised to score a rare victory over the Obama administration in the fight over the Export-Import Bank.

Both of the working proposals in the House and Senate to renew the bank’s charter would reverse Ex-Im guidelines that prevent financing for overseas power plants that decline to adopt greener technology.

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Bank officials adopted the policies, which included exemptions for the world's poorest nations, in December amid the Obama administration's broader push to address climate change.

Up until now, coal-state Democrats such as Sen. Manchin (D-W.Va.) have lacked political leverage to fight back.

But that’s changing thanks to the looming Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize the 80-year-old bank. Opponents of the power plant guidelines are seizing on the time crunch to win concessions.

A reversal of the rules would give coal a boost at a time when they say their industry is under siege from Obama administration regulations that would limit carbon emissions from power plants.

Manchin spokeswoman Katie Longo confirmed to The Hill that the senator wants to expand Ex-Im financing for coal-fired plants abroad. 

Critics of the Ex-Im rules argue America is the country best equipped to export clean coal technology, and argue limiting the coal industry's exports would only worsen the climate change problems that Obama is seeking to address.

Conservative critics of Ex-Im's are blasting the coal industry's involvement in the reauthorization push, saying it fits into their argument that the bank is "corporate welfare."

"Coal's predictable role in this debate serves to highlight one thing: while Democrats may fight amongst themselves over which industry should be the recipient of corporate welfare, the party has no principled opposition to corporate welfare," said Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler.

Tea Party groups such as Heritage are fighting to have Ex-Im abolished, and are putting heavy pressure on Republicans to reject the charter ahead of the midterm elections.

The coal provisions could provide cover for some Republicans to support the bill.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) — who has previously voted to reauthorize Ex-Im and is running for Senate this year — cited the coal regulations last month in dropping her support for the bank.

"For the last two years, the Export-Import Bank has joined the Obama administration's assault on our nation's coal industry," Capito said. "This is another example of this administration's intent to pick winners and losers in our economy, and I can no longer support the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank."

A source who has seen a draft of the Manchin legislation said the bill would reauthorize the bank for five years, while increasing its credit-exposure limit from $140 billion to $160 billion. 

A House working draft of legislation put forth by retiring-Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), in contrast, is only a three-year reauthorization and would lower the credit-exposure limit to $95 billion.

Both bills include the coal provisions.

Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.) has pushed reauthorization proposal with bipartisan support that lacks coal provisions, howver.

Manchin's bill would ensure that companies seeking Ex-Im financing are not human rights abusers, and require that transactions on state-owned enterprises pass a strategic review that assesses the impact on the U.S. economy, according to the source.

"If we are truly committed to protecting our global environment, the U.S. should lead the world in clean coal technology and export that technology to the rest of the world," Manchin said in a statement.

Manchin is working behind the scenes to build support for the legislation.

He reached out to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), another coal-state Democrat, for her thoughts on including a coal provision in the Ex-Im reauthorization bill, according to a Heitkamp aide, who said she supported the provision.

“I don’t agree with the new guidelines the Export-Import Bank recently adopted on coal-fired power plants," Heitkamp told The Hill. 

She added: "As I’ve been very clear that we need a viable path forward for coal and the new policies fail to recognize the role coal will continue to play in the world energy mix, in particular in developing countries." 

Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association (NMA), said that Ex-Im's current anti-coal policies are costing the U.S. jobs while helping China.

"The bank denies these economic and employment opportunities to the US and hands the business and the employment on a platter to China," Popovich said. 

He added: "If the bank removed its ideological blinders, it could incentive more efficient mining practices and the spread of advanced coal technologies and grow our economy at the same time."