How many ways can taxpayers support the coal industry?
If it were up to some Kentucky politicians, the giveaways would be endless.
Just this month we've heard from lawmakers in Frankfort who want to turn the public highways into parking lots for coal trucks and lawmakers in Washington who don't want to save taxpayers $2.3 billion over the next decade by ending subsidies to the coal industry.
Federal subsidies equal about 1 percent of annual domestic coal revenues, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget. But Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, said ending them would "severely" limit the coal industry's "ability to create jobs and keep production lines open."
Rogers accused the Obama administration of taking "dead aim at coal" even though the president's budget also ends oil and gas subsidies worth $36 billion over 10 years.
Meanwhile, in Frankfort, 12 lawmakers are sponsoring a bill that chief sponsor Ancel Smith, D-Leburn, says is necessary "to mine coal and build roads."
House Bill 409 would allow coal trucks and other "overweight and overdimensional" vehicles to block a public roadway for an hour to unload cargo. The road could be blocked for an additional four hours by paying $500 to $1,000 for a permit.
It's bad enough that Kentuckians must share the public roadways with legally overweight coal trucks. The permit fees do not begin to cover the costs of repairing the damage to roads and bridges from loads that weigh 23 tons more than other trucks are allowed to carry. The public also pays a high price in the stress and tragedies that come from run-ins with these behemoths.
Even by the standards we've come to expect from the coal caucus, HB 409 is preposterous. The state has long established procedures when a road needs to be closed, usually at night, to accommodate an oversized load. These requirements haven't prevented Kentucky from being the third largest coal-producing state or building roads. And, yet, one of the bill's sponsors is the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Hubert Collins, a Democrat from Johnson County.
We're seeing once again that coal's most ardent supporters do as much harm as anyone to its image by always insisting that the industry can't operate inside the rules — whether they're environmental rules, the rules of the road or a free market.
Markets work best when prices represent the true cost of a thing. The reason we're dependent on oil that poisons our relations with the rest of the world and coal that poisons our water and air is because coal and oil have been artificially underpriced because of subsidies, direct and indirect, that come out of the public's pockets.
Ultimately the cost of subsidizing oil and coal has been much more onerous than paying their true prices at the pump or on our electric bills would be.
After all these years of dependence, it's no wonder the coal industry can't stop squalling for more of the public teat and its political enablers can't stop obliging.
The whole world would subsidize coal if the sponsors of House Resolution 132, including Speaker Greg Stumbo, get their way. It calls on Congress to block initiatives to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that are altering the world's climate in ways that could be catastrophic.