In Republican-leaning Indiana, Democratic Senate candidate Joe Donnelly ignored Obama's objections and embraced a House GOP bill to undo the EPA rules. In swing state Ohio, Brown espouses an all-of-the-above energy policy similar to Obama's and dismisses claims of a "war on coal" as Republican talking points.
The White House, for its part, insists that the criticism of its record on coal is unfounded.
"The president has made clear that coal has an important role to play in our energy economy today and it will in the future, which is why this administration has worked to make sure that moving forward we can continue to rely on a broad range of domestic energy sources from oil and gas, to wind and solar, to nuclear, as well as clean coal," said Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman.
The administration points to a 31 percent increase in coal exports and greater flexibility in enforcing the new standards. The economic prospects for coal, Stevens said, "reflect the independent, financial decisions that utilities are making in response to the increase in cheap, abundant natural gas."
Coal's woes do extend far beyond the new EPA rules.
Natural gas is plentiful, less expensive and more environmentally friendly. A rush is on in the same Appalachian towns where coal has been king to claim natural gas mineral rights in the region's Marcellus and Utica shale reserves. Out-of-town lawyers have descended upon the courthouse in the Belmont County seat to pour over decades-old deeds and titles, some dating to the late 1800s, as they figure out which families should get checks.
"The hallways are filled," said Kent Moore, the former Republican Party chairman in Belmont. "They're moving from one county to another."