Former Vice President Joe Biden attacked the late-Sen. John McCain for not supporting “coal” while campaigning in West Virginia during the 2008 presidential election.
Biden told a crowd consisting of union mine workers in the closing days of the 2008 race that he and then-candidate Barack Obama would be better for the coal industry than McCain, the Republican presidential nominee.
“Ladies and gentleman, John McCain does not believe that clean coal is part of our future,” Biden said before quoting a statement the late-Arizona senator made saying, ‘in a perfect world we’d like to transition away from coal entirely.’ “That does not sound like a guy who is attacking us, saying ‘we’re not for clean coal.'”
To “reinforce” his argument, Biden added that McCain and his running mate, then-Gov. Sarah Palin, had turned their backs on Appalachia and mineworkers by supporting tax cuts for oil companies — a move likely to boost petroleum production at the expense of coal.
“So John, if you’re listening,” Biden said. “Stop this malarkey about who’s for clean coal. … Look, Barack and I believe that clean coal is part of our energy future, a necessary part, and also a great export capacity.”
Biden proceeded to cite instances where he and Obama had voted to appropriate more funding for clean coal technology, including “carbon sequestration,” so “we can use coal more and use it more friendly.” Such technology, he claimed, would help “create American jobs” when exported to other countries.
“China is building one coal-fired plant a week, its a dirty plant, they’ve got three hundred years of dirty coal,” Biden said. “We can turn from a liability to an asset, we can actually develop technology … and export it, create American jobs and help them make the environment … a lot cleaner. This should be a win-win situation, folks.”
Biden, who up until joining the Democrat ticket as Obama’s running mate had himself claimed there was not “much of a role for clean coal in energy independence,” accused McCain and Palin of wanting to send America’s “energy dollars” to oil-rich nations overseas.
“This is what we should be doing, investing in this technology, instead of pouring our energy dollars into the sands of Saudi Arabia and the pockets of Venezuela,” he said. “We should be exporting homemade technology … we should become the engine of change.”
At the time of the West Virginia speech, the Democrats were attempting to turn back Republican attacks stemming from a gaffe Biden made in September 2008. In an interaction captured on video and quickly incorporated into attacks ads, Biden was ambushed by an environmentalist while campaigning in Ohio and asked about his and Obama’s support for “clean coal.”
“We’re not supporting clean coal,” Biden said looping Obama, who had campaigned on his support for the energy source during the primaries, in with him. “Guess what, China is building two every week. Two dirty coal plants. And it’s polluting the United States, it’s causing people to die.”
When pushed by the environmentalist, Biden admitted that if coal plants had to exist, it was better that they were located anywhere but “here in America.”
“China is burning three hundred years of bad coal unless we figure out how to clean their coal up,” he said. “Because it’s going to ruin your lungs and there’s nothing we can do about it. No coal plants here in America. Build them, if they’re going to build them over there, make them clean because they’re killing you.”
The incident quickly became politically controversial, especially as “clean coal” was a top issue the Obama campaign was relying on to court white working-class voters in areas like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and certain sections of the industrial Midwest. The Obama campaign attempted to do damage control by claiming that Biden’s comments were being taken out of context for political points.
Afterwards, Biden remained on message throughout the rest of the campaign and even sought out opportunities to go on the offensive against McCain and Palin, as evidenced by his remarks in West Virginia.
The moment comes back into the spotlight after last week’s Democrat presidential debate at which Biden implied he was in favor of banning coal and fracking outright if elected in 2020.
“We would make sure it’s eliminated, and no more subsidies for either one of those, any fossil fuel,” Biden said when asked if there would be any place for fracking and coal in his administration.