WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Several U.S. senators have a message for their chamber's leaders: The road to a climate change rumbles through their coal-rich states.
Last week in a letter, a group of 14 coal-state members told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid the climate change bill needs to include more protections for coal-dependent utilities, Politico reported Tuesday.
"They don't have a deal until they get the coal-state senators, and they are a long way from doing it," Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said. "They're going to need us to pass a bill."
Coal is a driver for economic activity in 34 states, government data indicate. Department of Energy studies in 2007 indicated coal supplied about half of all U.S. power and employed more than 80,000 people. Each of those mining jobs spiders into 3 1/2 more jobs in associated industries, the National Mining Association said.
If Democratic senators want a climate change bill, "they are going to have to accept concessions to the coal industry," Peter Gray, chairman of the environmental law practice at McKenna Long and Aldridge, told the Washington publication.
Even Senate liberals concede coal state senators constitute a voting bloc.
"You are not going to have 60 votes in the Senate to shut down coal," Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., a liberal who supports stronger environmental and accountability standards for coal plants, told Politico.
But while the coal industry and its backers try to chip away at the bill Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., sponsored and which passed the Environment and Public Works Committee that she leads, a weaker emissions target could be a no-vote for liberal Democrats.
"I'll do everything I can to oppose that," Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., said.