While the leading candidates for one of the nation’s most competitive Congressional races agreed that the economy and jobs were the top issue facing the 12th Congressional District.
In back-to-back interviews Thursday on “St. Louis on the Air,” state Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, and U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, made their cases for the seat, which encompasses portions of the Metro East and southern Illinois, but clashed on whether climate change is real.
“I don’t. I don’t know that I do; no,” Bost said. “Some scientists do; some scientists don’t” believe in climate change he said.
“I think climate change is obviously happening,” Enyart said. “All you have to do is take a look at the photographs from space and you can see the arctic ice caps shrinking. We’ve seen this dramatic increase in floods and hurricanes and in typhoons. I don’t think there’s any question that climate change is a fact.”
Among the scientific community, there is a 97 percent consensus that climate change exists and is a man-made phenomenon.
Jobs And Poverty
Both candidates targeted the economy and jobs as the most important issue facing the 12th district.
“I think the economy has certainly been on everyone’s mind for the last several years, and the good news is that the economy is improving,” Enyart said. “We’ve certainly got plenty of problems still.”
Enyart said employers are concerned about finding trained, qualified employees. He said he has proposed legislation which would provide grants to community colleges to help address that problem.
Bost said relieving “overburdensome regulation” also will improve the job market. Creating jobs, he said, is up to “the entrepreneur, the aggressive business person that sees an opportunity.” “Government can either stand in the way or get out of the way,” he said.
Illinois Coal And Oil
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that Illinois has 24 active coal mines; only Wyoming produces more coal. But Illinois’ coal has high sulfur content, and most utilities that burn Illinois coal combine it with lower sulfur coal from other regions to meet Clean Air Act requirements. The Energy Information Administration says about one-seventh of Illinois’ coal is exported to another state or country.
On Thursday, Bost attacked the Environmental Protection Agency’s “overburdensome regulation” of the coal industry.
In June, the EPA proposed rule changes that would cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants by as much as 30 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. The EPA says existing power plants account for 38 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, and most of that is from aging, coal-fired power plants.
If that change is made, “we’re going to have blackouts; we’re going to have brownouts; we’re going to have loss of jobs,” Bost said. “We have to make sure that the EPA regulations and other regulations are not so overburdensome.”
“We’ve made tremendous strides in cleaning up Illinois coal,” Enyart said. “Here in Illinois we today are mining more coal with fewer miners than we did 10 years ago. That’s because of increased productivity.
“What we need to do is develop the research and technology. Let’s get that technology cost down to the point where not only can we use it effectively and efficiently in this country, but we can ship that overseas,” he said.
Bost also stressed the importance of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canadian crude oil through the United States to the Gulf Coast and, in a separate fork, to a refinery in southern Illinois.
As of January 2013, the Energy Information Administration reported that Illinois ranked fourth nationally in crude oil refining capacity. The Wood River refinery in Roxana, Ill., is the state’s largest, with a capacity to produce about 311,000 barrels per day.
“The concerns of the farmers that I deal with is to make sure they can get the best price that they can for their grain,” Bost said.
He said the Keystone pipeline would help with that. “(The pipeline) frees up those vehicles that we’re now using to transport that fuel and actually brings the cost for things like grain hauling down,” he said.
Enyart cited the Agriculture Act of 2014: “We made several changes to the crop insurance program to make it less costly to the taxpayer, so we’re saving the taxpayer money while at the same time we’re making it more responsive to the market and to farmers’ needs,” he said.
Military And ISIS
Enyart and Bost have served in the military. When dealing with the militant group ISIS, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State, the candidates said they supported the military but disagreed on what would be required of it.
“I almost believe that we’re going to have no choice but to put boots on the ground in some way because the air strikes are not showing that we’re gaining the ground necessary,” Bost said. “It is in the president’s hands to make that call.”
“When you have American boots on the ground, particularly in nations in the Middle East, we’re intruders,” Enyart said. “I think folks on the ground really need to be people from that area. I think we would have to have a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States before we would put boots on the ground.”
During the 2012 election cycle, Enyart prevailed in a hotly contested race for the 12th District over Republican Jason Plummer and Green Party nominee Paula Bradshaw. He stepped down as the adjunct general of the Illinois National Guard to run for a seat that had for years been held by U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello.
Bost won his first election to the Illinois House in 1994, making him one of the first Republicans to represent his legislative district in recent memory. He’s generally served in the minority throughout his tenure in the Illinois Legislature, although he says he’s worked with Democrats to pass legislation that’s important for southern Illinois.
National party committees, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Campaign Committee, have targeted the 12th District. That’s usually a sign that the race is close; national parties typically do not invest money in contests that they can’t win.
Green Party candidate Bradshaw also is running for the 12th District seat. She will be on “St. Louis on the Air” on Wednesday.
Jason Rosenbaum contributed to this report.
“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.