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Conservative favorite in W.Va. race accused by foe of flip-flopping on coal

Former West Virginia Public Service Commissioner Charlotte Lane (R) is going on the offensive in the state's crowded 2nd District GOP primary, accusing conservative favorite Alex Mooney (R) of switching sides in the war on coal to seek the House seat.

The pair of Republicans are front-runners, along with former state Sen. Steve Harrison, in the seven-candidate field vying for the GOP nod to succeed Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) in the sprawling district. Capito is the likely GOP nominee in the open-seat race to succeed retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D).

Lane first leveled the criticisms in a Monday op-ed in the Charleston Daily Mail, highlighting Mooney's legislative record during his 12-year tenure in the Maryland state Senate and as the former Maryland GOP party chairman. Mooney moved to West Virginia in 2013.

"Mooney isn't even in the same league with me on coal," Lane told E&E Daily in a telephone interview.

Among Mooney's shortcomings, Lane pointed to Mooney's efforts in 2002 to enact a moratorium on new power plant construction until the state could meet "overall compliance with the national primary ambient air quality standard for ozone required by the EPA," as well as a 2009 amendment he authored to include manufacturers under a state measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Lane also dismissed Mooney's sponsorship of a 2008 bill to construct the Maryland Clean Energy Center to promote the use of solar energy. Federal funds for that demonstration center, located at a Maryland freeway rest stop, were secured by then-Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), for whom Mooney once worked as an aide. One of the nation's largest solar manufacturers, BP Solar, is located in Bartlett's former district.

Despite Lane's attack on Mooney's record this week, she demurred when asked whether highlighting Mooney's Maryland record will be key to winning over voters in the Charleston and Martinsburg-based district.

"This race is so important to West Virginia that I want to stress the positives that I bring to the race," said Lane, who also served on the U.S. International Trade Commission. "I have a long history with this state. I have a record of achievement. I have a record of caring for West Virginia issues and West Virginia families and industries. ... I'm seen as a friend to all forms of energy in the state, and I have such a long record on those issues that I am receiving support."

Mooney's campaign questioned the veracity of Lane's criticisms -- arguing that the 2002 moratorium on power plants was really about local control over where to build new power plants, rather than support for Clean Air Act regulations -- while also suggesting that Lane is too liberal for the district.

"It's sad to see Charlotte Lane resort to these kind of false attacks when Alex has a record of supporting pro-coal legislation," Mooney campaign manager Nick Clemens said in a statement. "Her campaign seems desperate to distract voters from her support for gun control and taxpayer funding of abortion instead of being upfront about her record in the West Virginia House of Delegates."

In an interview with the Tea Party Express published Monday, Mooney vowed to "stand up and fight back against" the Obama administration on policies and regulations affecting the state's coal industry.

"Here you have a case where the federal government is completely abusing their authorities: They're using, Obama is using executive orders, and the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, to regulate essentially out of business any new mining and to cut into the profitability of coal mining," Mooney told the Tea Party Express. "We have to stand up to them. I've always found, when I was a senator, you put in a bill that would take away their power, that sometimes they'd come to the table and agree to some sort of a reform that would allow you to at least continue to do business."

Although Mooney did not offer examples of his efforts to force negotiations, it appears some of his previous legislative efforts may have been attempts to dismantle proposals like the state's 2009 cap-and-trade initiative.

A Baltimore Sun report at that time -- which noted that Mooney had no prior reputation as an advocate for climate change -- suggested that Mooney's failed attempt to include manufacturers under greenhouse gas emission regulations would have likely killed the bill if approved.

"We should do it right if we do it at all," Mooney told the newspaper at the time, arguing that no sector should be exempt from the legislation. But the newspaper noted that removing that exemption would have likely undermined a coalition of labor and manufacturers that had rejected such an effort a year earlier. Mooney was the only one of 45 lawmakers to support his amendment.

Conservative groups that have backed Mooney's bid also suggested yesterday that voters may be willing to overlook his legislative record in another state.

"We feel that Alex has been on the right side of that issues consistently," said Taylor Budowich, executive director of Tea Party Express, which just endorsed Mooney this week. "There might be a couple of votes that his opponent might disagree with, but if you look at his record as a whole, he's been a friend of the coal industry."

Budowich added: "The world is a dynamic place and a changing place. The world 15 years ago is much different place than it is today. Issues evolve and change."

Madison Project Policy Director Daniel Horowitz added that conservatives are unlikely to slam Mooney for a few votes, noting that Mooney's status as a political outsider is more important.

"This guy is a pure boat-rocker. I cannot imagine that you will have another person, another individual, with over a decade of hundreds of votes in a very blue state legislature that has a more conservative record than Alex Mooney," Horowitz said. "We just want people who are fundamentally with us, instead of fundamentally with the political class. Mooney has shown that over the years."

Mooney leads in fundraising, with $301,000 in his war chest at the end of last year, after raising $190,000 in the final months of 2013.

Lane reported $255,000 in the bank at the end of last year, including a $150,000 loan to her campaign and $65,000 in fourth-quarter contributions.

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