Braden Lusk: Coal's contributions to UK go beyond sports

October 1, 2012 

  • At issue: Sept. 6 Herald-Leader article, "Anti-coal rally zeros in on center of UK athletics" and Sept. 4 commentary by Samuel Beavin, "UK should lead Ky.'s transition from coal"

As opposed to protesting the sponsorship of University of Kentucky athletic events by the coal industry, on behalf of myself and the students who benefit from these generous donations, I would like to say thank you.

Furthermore, the sponsorship of these events sheds a positive light on an industry that is often unfairly demonized for success in providing an economic advantage for our state.

As one of the top U.S. coal producers, Kentucky has provided some of the lowest electricity prices for businesses and individuals. These low electricity rates help attract new businesses to the area, and with new businesses come new jobs for Kentuckians.

UK has benefited greatly from its relationship with one of the state's signature industries. In addition to the support for UK athletics, Kentucky's coal industry supports academic units within the university.

For example, the mining engineering program has seen expansion and growth throughout the downturn in the national economy.

We have more than 200 undergraduate students studying mining engineering, with more than 25 graduate students pursuing doctoral and master's degrees. This growth can be attributed to the unparalleled support from the mining industry and specifically Kentucky's coal producers.

Each year, the mining engineering department is able to extend several hundred thousand dollars in scholarships to students studying the discipline. Many of these scholarships are awarded to residents of counties where coal is produced.

Upon completion of the degree, students are welcomed into an industry where they can rely on stable employment with a salary that is among the highest in any discipline across the country.

The state budget is significantly impacted by coal production. The current budget was crafted expecting $333 million in revenue from coal severance taxes. With increasing pressure from coal pricing, increased federal scrutiny and decreased energy demand causing a volatile Appalachian coal market, the actual tax generated will now be $245 million.

It is obvious that this shortfall in the budget must come from another source. Protestors should consider the impact of such budget shortfalls at the state's flagship university. Support for an industry that has provided jobs, tax revenue and incentives through low-cost electricity production would be expected in times when little positives can be found in the national economy.

The reality of current infrastructure dictates that coal will continue to be a key component of energy production in the United States for the foreseeable future. The use of alternative energies simply cannot support the massive demand for electricity without the help of coal-generated power.

Power plants are not permitted and built overnight, and energy demand cannot be deferred to await the arrival of a solution that is yet to emerge.

In Kentucky, coal is an abundant resource that must be utilized to fuel growth in our economy. When an alternative energy source is presented that can handle the burden that coal has shouldered since it was first used to produce electricity in the 1880's, the market will certainly add it to our energy mix.

We need to recognize and appreciate the fact that coal not only keeps our lights on but supplements the academic and athletic departments of the University of Kentucky.

As a proud member of UK's faculty, I thank Kentucky's coal industry for its ongoing support of both higher education and college athletics.

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