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Meeting with community members in Ashland, Kentucky on Monday, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said her previous anti-coal comments were "misused" against her. (Photo: Hillary Clinton campaign)

Meeting with community members in Ashland, Kentucky on Monday, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said her previous anti-coal comments were "misused" against her. (Photo: Hillary Clinton campaign)

Backtracking on Clean Energy, Clinton Turns Chameleon on Coal

Democratic frontrunner accused of flip-flopping on fossil fuels after she is confronted by protests in coal country

Lauren McCauley

Campaigning in Appalachia on Monday, Hillary Clinton claimed she "misspoke" when previously declaring her opposition to coal, telling voters that as president she would work to ensure that the dirtiest of the fossil fuels will "continue to be sold and continue to be mined."

Arriving in Williamson, West Virginia—the heart of coal country—the Democratic frontrunner was greeted by a wall of protesters who were angry over remarks she made in March foretelling the end of the coal industry.

During the March 13 town hall event, Clinton said that her energy policy would "bring economic opportunity—using clean, renewable energy as the key—into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal companies and coal miners out of business."

And earlier, at a November press conference announcing her League of Conservation Voters endorsement, the presidential hopeful declared, "We have to move away from coal. Everybody understands that. There's no doubt about it."

While those comments were celebrated by environmentalists, they aroused the ire of people dependent on coal jobs, such as Bo Copley, a former coal company employee who was one of the West Virginia residents who met with Clinton on Monday.

During their discussion, Copley referenced those previous remarks, asking: "I just want you to know—how can you say you’re going to put a lot of coal miners out of jobs and then come in here and tell us you’re going to be our friend?" He added that the protesters outside "don’t see you as a friend."

Clinton apologized for the "misstatement" and said she was "sad and sorry" that people had "misused her comments."

"I don't know how to explain it other than what I said was totally out of context for what I meant because I have been talking about helping coal country for a very long time," Clinton said. "It was a misstatement because what I was saying is the way things are going now, they will continue to lose jobs. It didn't mean that we were going to do it. What I said is that is going to happen unless we take action to help and prevent it."

In fact, the coal industry has seen a sharp decline in recent years, most recently evidenced by the bankruptcy of Peabody Coal last month.

Earlier on Monday, Clinton expanded on what sort of "action" she would take during a conversation about "economic barriers and jobs," which was held in Ashland, Kentucky.

"We've got to do a lot more on carbon capture and sequestration," she told voters, "and try to see how we can get coal to be a fuel that can continue to be sold and continue to be mined."

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), or "clean coal," has long been touted as a greener method of burning fossil fuels and is a pillar of Clinton's energy agenda.

But such techno-fixes to our climate crisis have been dubbed a "marketing myth" as scientists and environmentalists widely agree that the only way to combat our rising carbon emissions is to keep coal and other fossil fuels "in the ground."

Throughout the campaign, Clinton's climate record has received a great deal of scrutiny as she has been accused of shifting her stance on issues like fracking and accepting donations from fossil fuel industry representatives.

Clinton is currently holding a two-day "Breaking Down Barriers" driving tour of the region ahead of the May 10th West Virginia primary. On Tuesday, voters in Indiana will cast their ballots in what is expected to be a close Democratic race.

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