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Kentucky coal group targets California billionaire, climate-protection efforts

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes' meeting with California billionaire Tom Steyer has prompted the Kentucky Coal Association to warn her not to accept donations from him or his climate-protection group.

Grimes and other candidates attended a meeting Tuesday in Chicago with Steyer and other major Democratic donors, according to her campaign. In a prepared statement, Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett said anyone accepting donations form Steyer or his NextGen Climate Action group would "identify you as being against the production and use of Kentucky coal."

"Her comments thus far have been pro coal. She has made it clear she wants to be a pro coal candidate," Bissett said in an interview. "This is more so just trying to say, 'You really can't have it both ways here.'"

State and federal campaign records show Steyer and his group have not contributed money to any Kentucky political candidates for the 2014 election cycle.

"Allison's pro-coal credentials are unquestioned by Kentuckians," Kentucky Democratic Party chairman Dan Logsdon said. "Alison is the only candidate with the jobs plan to help save and create jobs in coal country."

Grimes has said many times that she supports the Kentucky coal industry. In September, she criticized an EPA ruling on new emissions standards, which she said would "practically prohibit construction of new coal-fired plants, which will threaten Kentucky jobs and raise energy prices."

But Republicans criticized Grimes' meeting Tuesday with Democratic donors.

"Actions speak louder than words, and Kentuckians deserve to know if Grimes will finally give them something other than her usual empty rhetoric," said Kelsey Cooper, spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Kentucky.

Despite declining production in recent years, Kentucky remains the country's third-largest coal producer. More than 90 percent of the state's electricity is generated by coal-burning plants. Political candidates from both parties are eager to show support for the industry, and even the state's beloved University of Kentucky basketball team lives in a campus lodge built from coal industry donations.

The Kentucky Coal Association says it represents 90 percent of the state's coal industry and more than 150 Kentucky-based companies.