COLUMBUS (AP) — As former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland nears a decision on running for the U.S. Senate, he sought Monday to tamp down any political overtones of his work in the area of Appalachian coal.
Strickland, a Democrat unseated in 2010, is counselor to the Center for American Progress. The Washington, D.C.-based think tank released a report Monday calling for reforming coal subsidies on federal land in the West that it asserts puts Appalachian coal at an economic disadvantage.
Strickland reiterated he’ll make his decision about running for the seat currently held by Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman by the end of February. He said the report and its timing weren’t political.
“I care about Ohio. I care about coal communities,” said the former congressman and eastern Ohio native. He said he had asked the center to investigate solutions to the economic struggles in those communities “long before there was any talk of me entering a political race of any kind.”
Strickland, a once-popular governor, is considered one of the most formidable potential contenders to Portman on the Democratic side. He led a Democratic near-sweep of statewide offices in 2006 and narrowly lost his re-election bid to Republican Gov. John Kasich four years later amid a punishing recession. So far, 30-year-old Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is the only Democrat to enter the 2016 Senate contest.
Ohio Republicans and the Ohio Coal Association said Strickland has not worked for, but against, the coal industry, supporting President Barack Obama’s effort to restrict carbon emissions of new and existing coal-fired power plants.
If he runs, “Strickland will have a lot to answer to Ohio’s coal voters on why he betrayed the people he used to represent in Congress and why he has been getting paid by a liberal Washington think tank for the past few years to advocate policies that are bad for Ohio coal, as well as anyone who turns on a light switch,” said Christian Palich, the coal association’s interim president.
U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, an eastern Pennsylvania Democrat, said federal coal royalties that haven’t been updated in more than 40 years are contributing to coal from the Powder River Basin running through Montana and Wyoming selling for $13 a barrel while Appalachian coal sells for $60 a barrel.
Strickland acknowledged that mechanization and the difficulties accessing coal that remains in the long-mined areas of Appalachia also contribute to the cost differential. But he noted the center’s proposal is not projected to eliminate Western coal jobs while at the same time generating $5 billion in additional revenue for taxpayers who own the lands where it’s mined.