For months, some people at the University of Kentucky have been working on a daylong forum about coal and its impact — for better or worse — on the state.
So the forum, which will take place on campus Thursday, is not a quick reaction to last week's blowup over the board of trustees' decision to accept $7 million in private funds to build a Wildcat Coal Lodge for the men's basketball team.
But the sharp divisions and raw emotions exposed by that debate provide a timely backdrop to what the university bills as "a balanced discussion regarding the past, present and future impact of coal on our state's economy and environment."
"I think all of us realize the importance and impact of coal, whether you see that as a positive or a negative impact," said Julie Martinez, a spokeswoman for UK's Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments.
The goal of the first-of-its-kind-forum is, she said, "to bring together on the same stage people who normally wouldn't be in the same room together."
The forum is free. Pre-registration is encouraged.
■ Joseph W. Craft III, president and chief executive director of Alliance Coal, who put together the group of donors behind Wildcat Coal Lodge. Organizers said his appearance at the forum the week after the lodge became an issue is a coincidence.
■ Tom FitzGerald, executive director of a non-profit environmental advocacy organization called the Kentucky Resources Council, who is considered the state's top environmental lawyer.
■ House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, who is behind legislation to find ways to burn coal more cleanly while paying more attention to renewable energy sources.
■ Jason Bailey, research and policy director for the Berea-based Mountain Association for Community Economic Development and co-author of a report showing that coal costs the state more than it brings in.
■ Chris Barton, a UK forestry professor who is researching better ways to grow trees on land that has been strip-mined.
The forum's day sessions will be at the Hilary J. Boone Center. Evening sessions will be at Memorial Hall.
The public might be especially interested in the evening session, when Craft and FitzGerald will be among the speakers, Martinez said.
It will end in a moderated question-and-answer session.
"We're not planning for there to be any opportunity for it to turn into a shouting match," she said.
The forum will be filmed for a documentary on coal's role in the state. Work on the documentary will continue over several months in various Kentucky sites.
The forum is organized by the Visualization Center and the College of Engineering's Department of Mining Engineering. The forum and the documentary are paid for with a grant from the state Cabinet for Energy and Environment.