Democrats urge Kentucky Coal Association to demand McConnell’s wife resign from group funding ‘war on coal’

Elaine Chao sits on board of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which is spending $50 million targeting the coal industry

Chris Moody, Yahoo News
Yahoo News
From left, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, 24th U.S. Secretary of Labor and McConnell's wife Elaine Chao, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. Ed Whitfield and Kentucky Department of Agriculture James Comer listen to Gov. Steve Beshear speak during the 134th Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/The Paducah Sun, John Paul Henry)
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From left, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, 24th U.S. Secretary of Labor and McConnell's wife Elaine Chao, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. Ed Whitfield and Kentucky Department of Agriculture James Comer listen to Gov. Steve Beshear speak during the 134th Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/The Paducah Sun, John Paul Henry)

Eight Kentucky state lawmakers sent a letter to the president of the state’s coal industry trade association demanding that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife break ties with Bloomberg Philanthropies after a Yahoo News report detailed her association with the group, which is spending $50 million on an ongoing campaign to kill the coal industry.

Yahoo News reported on Friday that in 2012 McConnell’s wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, joined the board of directors of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which had announced a four-year, $50 million funding commitment to the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” initiative a year earlier. The Sierra Club campaign’s stated goal is to "end our nation’s reliance on dirty coal, plant-by-plant, community-by-community, and state-by-state.” While Chao was not involved in the decision to fund the Sierra Club effort, her affiliation with Bloomberg Philanthropies led opponents of her husband to question why she would join an organization actively working against an industry whose health is so crucial to the state he represents.

McConnell, a Republican, is currently in a tight race for re-election against Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat. Both campaigns have aimed to highlight their support for the coal industry. McConnell, one of the staunchest defenders of coal in the Senate, has tried to tie Grimes with President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency’s ongoing lawsuits targeting coal plants.

The August 12 letter, signed only by Democrats, urged Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett to join the clamor for Chao’s resignation from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

“[W]e call on you personally and on the Kentucky Coal Association directors to denounce the Bloomberg board’s disgraceful action and call on the McConnells to return the money they have pocketed from this and any other anti-Kentucky coal organizations,” the letter reads. “We also urge you to join us in demanding that Ms. Chao resign immediately from the Bloomberg board.”

The letter's signatories included Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Majority Leader Rocky Adkins.

In response to Yahoo News’ story last week, Bissett defended McConnell, saying he had full confidence in the lawmaker’s support for the industry.

"I believe it is important to recognize that Bloomberg's contribution was made well before Secretary Elaine Chao began her service as a board member of Bloomberg Philanthropies in April 2012," Bissett told the Associated Press in a statement.

In 2012, the Kentucky Coal Association published a report about the Sierra Club’s initiative entitled, “Know The Enemy,” which detailed Bloomberg Philanthropies’ role in aiding the anti-coal initiative.

Republicans regularly accuse their opponents of partaking in a “war on coal” by seeking to link them to Obama’s clean-air efforts — but Democrats in coal-heavy states often place themselves squarely on the same side of the industry as Republicans. Last week, both McConnell and Grimes toured Kentucky coal country as part of an effort to shore up support from industry workers and communities that benefit from the industry. West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, a Democrat, has campaigned against the White House on coal issues this year as she seeks to win the open U.S. senate seat in the state. And in 2012, Obama himself took on Republican challenger Mitt Romney over who was more pro-coal in Ohio's coal-mining Southeast.

Read the full letter below:

Mr. Bill Bissett, President

Kentucky Coal Association

2800 Palumbo Drive, Suite 200

Lexington, KY 40509

Dear Mr. Bissett:

With shock and alarm, we read the report last week by Chris Moody of Yahoo! News regarding the service of Elaine Chao, a former Labor Secretary and a prominent Kentuckian, on the board of directors of the Bloomberg Philanthropies foundation.

As you know, Bloomberg Philanthropies has committed $50 million over four years in support of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign to retire one-third of the nation’s coal-fired power plants by 2020 and targeted at least 16 Kentucky coal plants. The Bloomberg foundation’s website acknowledges in plain English its objective of “ending the coal era.” It further states, “With the Beyond Coal campaign, we’re helping to end our nation’s reliance on dirty coal, plant-by-plant, community-by-community, and state-by-state.”

We were even further horrified to learn that Senator McConnell’s campaign confessed that Ms. Chao knowingly joined the board while the anti-Kentucky coal campaign was in full swing. We are certain that you and the Kentucky Coal Association membership share our dismay.

As Kentuckians with long histories of championing a strong, vibrant coal industry in the Commonwealth, who work with the Kentucky Coal Association, we call on you personally and on the Kentucky Coal Association directors to denounce the Bloomberg board’s disgraceful action and call on the McConnells to return the money they have pocketed from this and any other anti-Kentucky coal organizations.

We also urge you to join us in demanding that Ms. Chao resign immediately from the Bloomberg board.

The Bloomberg/Sierra Club venture is a despicable assault on a proud industry that provides employment directly and indirectly for many thousands of our people and affordable electric power for us all.

It is intolerable that Ms. Chao sits on a board that takes actions so hurtful to Kentucky.

We urge you to act swiftly and decisively.

Sincerely,

Speaker Greg Stumbo

Majority Leader Rocky Adkins

Senator Johnny Ray Turner

Representative Leslie Combs

Representative John Short

Representative John Will Stacy

Representative Brent Yonts

Magistrate Chris Harris

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