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The cap-and-trade bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is dominating the race for the 9th Congressional District seat out in the heart of coal country.
Republican challenger Morgan Griffith is pounding Democratic incumbent Rick Boucher for voting in favor of cap-and-trade. Griffith claims the legislation will kill jobs in the district, already beset with high unemployment.
A recent Griffith TV ad features a repeated clip of President Barack Obama professing, "I love Rick Boucher." The narrator says: "Love the Obama Washington agenda? Rick Boucher does. Obama’s cap-and-trade plan kills our jobs and raises electricity costs. Boucher helped write it."
Cap-and-trade has stalled in the U.S. Senate. But PolitiFact Virginia wanted to examine what role Boucher had, if any, in drafting the legislation.
What exactly is cap-and-trade?
Under the bill, the government would set a limit on how much carbon companies, such as electric utilities or manufacturers, can emit. The government would then issue permits for emissions to companies and allow them to buy and sell the permits with each other. Supporters say the policy would create a free-market system that will reduce emissions. Opponents argue that that it will kill jobs that rely on coal and other traditional fuel sources.
Griffith bases his claim that Boucher helped write the bill to on a story on news website SWVA Today in which Boucher defended his vote for cap-and-trade and acknowledged having a part in amending the bill.
Asked to clarify his role, Boucher explained that the alternative to cap-and-trade was to leave regulation to the Environmental Protection Agency, which he said would be devastating for companies that rely on coal and their employees.
"That would be the worst possible outcome for the coal industry, coal jobs, for electric utilities that burn coal and electric consumers," Boucher told PolitiFact Virginia.
As a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Boucher said he amended the legislation at the request of the coal and electric power industries in an effort to minimize the impact on coal jobs.
Boucher’s changes included emissions credits that ensured that power plants could continue to use coal so long as they find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"It’s certainly accurate to say that I was deeply involved in the process, but the ad is extraordinarily misleading because it suggests that I was doing this because it was something that the President of the Speaker of the House wanted," Boucher said. "In fact, I took them on to get the deal that I got for coal."
Boucher’s intentions were defended by Phil Smith, a spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America, who said the congressman went to bat for coal.
"The truth of the matter is that when that bill was originally introduced, there wasn’t one single dime in there in support of the coal industry," he said. "What Rick Boucher did was to get involved in the negotiations and put $180 billion into it for coal."
Smith added: "Without him getting involved, the handwriting would be on the wall for the coal industry at this point."
Melissa McHenry with American Electric Power said that the company was supportive of those changes that Boucher had made to cap-and-trade.
"It supports continued use of coal," she said. "The alternative is EPA regulation and he recognized that that would have a significant impact to the detriment of the coal industry."
Let’s look back at the details.
Did Boucher help write cap-and-trade? Absolutely. But he did so to add protections for the coal industry and the jobs it provides in his district.
The ad implies that Boucher contributed to a job-killing bill, but his motive was to actually protect those jobs. So while the statement is accurate that he helped write it, the ad leaves out important details. We find the claim Half True.
Morgan Griffith for Congress, "Obama loves Rick Boucher", Sept. 20, 2010.
Interview with Rick Boucher, Oct. 25, 2010.
The Energy and Commerce Committee,summary of provisions in HR 2454, accessed Oct. 25, 2010.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Boucher, Griffith clash over cap-and-trade legislation at 9th District debate", Oct. 22, 2010.
The Wall Street Journal, "In Virginia House race, Cap and Trade matter", Oct. 25, 2010.
SWVA Today, "Boucher defends position on cap and trade", Feb. 23, 2010.
Interview with Melissa McHenry, American Electric Power, Oct. 25, 2010.
Interview with Phil Smith, United Mine Workers of America, Oct. 25, 2010.
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