The coal severance tax is supposed to help places build economies that can outlast coal, not hold them hostage to coal.
But in Harlan County, the town of Lynch, which has been fighting to save itself from strip-mining, has been told to make nice with the coal industry or forget about sharing in any local proceeds from the coal severance tax.
The Harlan Daily Enterprise reports that Lynch Mayor Taylor Hall says he was recently told by Harlan County Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop "that if we didn't give in, then he would make sure that we would never get a penny of money."
Lynch has been seeking funds from Harlan County's share of severance tax proceeds to match a grant for restoration of an old firehouse. The county judge-executive and fiscal court control the local portion of the severance tax.
Grieshop told the newspaper: "I just told them that the coal companies are where the money comes from. If you're not willing to work with them and you're anti-coal, then the fiscal court members are not going to support you. They have already stated that. They don't feel comfortable helping out cities with coal monies, when the city is not trying to work with the coal company."
It's not accurate or fair to label Lynch, an historic coal company town, as "anti-coal." The town is full of miners and retired miners who wish the industry well but understand it can prosper without ruining their town's water, air, quality of life and future.
In Lynch, the industry has a chance to prove that "responsible mining" is not an oxymoron.
But it appears the powers-that-be are pursuing the traditional approach of bullying and bulldozing anyone or anything that gets in the coal industry's way.
Grieshop is voicing an approach to governing that would seem ridiculous outside the coalfields.
You never hear a government body insist that a cigarette tax be spent the way smokers want or that the insurance industry should call the shots on how revenues from premium taxes are disbursed.
Kentucky's coal counties are among the poorest in the country — and they'll stay that way as long as even their elected leaders hold them hostage to coal.