Mitch McConnell’s Musical Attack on EPA

The Senate minority leader recruited a reality-TV singer to fight the climate rules.

LEXINGTON, KY - MAY 19: U.S. Senate Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to supporters at a campaign rally May 19, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. McConnell has a full day of campaigning scheduled in advance of tomorrow's Republican primary against challenger Matt Bevin.
National Journal
Jason Plautz
July 29, 2014, 5:59 p.m.

This week’s pub­lic hear­ings on the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency’s Clean Power Plan have the usu­al roster of speak­ers: en­vir­on­ment­al­ists, in­dustry big­wigs, and politi­cians look­ing to make stump speeches for or against the rule. But it’s likely only one has the résumé of Jimmy Rose: Ir­aq vet­er­an, coal miner, and third-place fin­ish­er on the real­ity show Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent.

The Pinev­ille, Ky., nat­ive will speak Wed­nes­day at an EPA hear­ing in Wash­ing­ton as a guest of Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell be­fore head­ing to the Cap­it­ol to per­form his sig­na­ture song “Coal Keeps the Lights On.” The song car­ries an ob­vi­ous — and for the Ken­tucky sen­at­or a polit­ic­ally po­tent — mes­sage. Rose’s lyr­ics in­voke red-meat im­agery (“tires on the truck and a sun­dress on my baby girl”) to un­der­score the im­port­ance of coal jobs to Ap­palachia, be­fore ad­mon­ish­ing “plumb-down crazy” Wash­ing­ton for anti-coal policies. Mc­Con­nell has ap­peared with Rose be­fore and even ref­er­enced Rose’s song last fall in try­ing to in­tro­duce a bill that would have blocked the EPA rules.

Rose spoke to Na­tion­al Journ­al about the mes­sage he hopes to bring to EPA, how he wrote “Coal Keeps the Lights On,” and wheth­er EPA is dodging cri­ti­cism of its cli­mate plan. Here are ex­cerpts from the in­ter­view.

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What mes­sage are you bring­ing to the EPA hear­ings?

I hope they let me sing, but I’ll get to sing my song at the Cap­it­ol [in a press con­fer­ence with Mc­Con­nell]. It’s go­ing to be clear and straight to the point about what they’re do­ing to us here in Ap­palachia. I want to put a face on what they’re do­ing and the re­stric­tions they’re put­ting in place. This war on coal, it’s dif­fer­ent if you’re not from around here in coal coun­try. I want to show them in some way what they’re do­ing to us. It’s a real hon­or to be a part of this with [Mc­Con­nell]. We’ve done sev­er­al events with him. He’s fight­ing this battle, and it’s an hon­or to be with Mitch and to rep­res­ent coal coun­try as a whole.

Mc­Con­nell has said that EPA ought to be hold­ing a hear­ing in coal coun­try. Do you agree?

It’s easy for them to hold these hear­ings out­side the real af­fected area. They don’t have to look at the people, they don’t have to look at the poverty-stricken com­munit­ies. They don’t have to make up some ex­cuse to make them feel bet­ter. It’s a sad thing they won’t drive through the towns and com­munit­ies and look at the schools. This is a war on coal, I feel strong about that. I think they should have to come around and listen to the people they’re af­fect­ing. Any op­por­tun­ity I get, I’ll jump on it to be heard, but it’s sad they won’t come to the com­bat zone.

How did your song “Coal Keeps the Lights On” come about?

I wrote that song sev­er­al years back, even be­fore I was on Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent. I wrote that in sup­port of my people and my ho­met­own. The people who are los­ing their homes and their jobs and have to move away just to find work. To me, it’s be­ing a voice for my own people. I per­son­al­ize it when I talk about the bob­cats and the moun­tain lions [loc­al high school mas­cots], so it’s who I am and my grass roots. I wrote it out of an­ger and out of re­sent­ment and from my per­son­al ex­per­i­ence. I’ve worked in the ground; I know how it feels.

Why do you think EPA should hear the song?

If I can sing it to them, I hope they’d truly listen to the lyr­ics and the true mean­ing of what I’m try­ing to say. I think they’d get a sense of the re­per­cus­sions of the de­cisions they’re mak­ing. I’m all for sav­ing the en­vir­on­ment, I’m for sav­ing the fu­ture, but I think we’ve got to save us first. I don’t know if my song will af­fect any de­cisions, but hope­fully it will make them con­sider the im­pact of their ac­tions.

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