Gov. Steve Beshear and his biggest political patron, coal operator Jim Booth of Inez, celebrated a $7 billion, 25-year coal deal with India last week during a Capitol news conference.
But the Kentuckians who live below Booth's mines probably weren't feeling quite as cheery.
The Beshear administration allowed one of Booth's mines in Pike County to operate for 18 months without a permit, until a flood devastated a rural neighborhood along Harless Creek in July 2010, bringing attention to the illegal mining and the lack of reclamation.
The India deal will send 9 million tons of coal a year from Kentucky and West Virginia to fuel power plants and steel mills in one of the world's fastest growing economies.
For years, Kentuckians have been told that the environmental destruction and health risks to miners and the public were the price we had to pay for cheap energy.
Now Kentuckians are being asked to sacrifice their own health and future well-being to fuel an economic competitor.
We hope this new demand for Appalachian coal will provide some stability to coal-dependent Kentuckians and their communities at a time when miners are being laid off and coal's share of U.S. electrical generation has slipped from more than half to 40 percent in just a few years.
One big deal does not a big picture change, however. Eastern Kentucky must be planning for a post-coal future and building a more diversified economy.
Kentucky produced 101 million tons of coal in 2010, so the 9 million tons a year that will be going to India is a big deal.
The price comes out to $31 a ton — less than the almost $60 a ton that Central Appalachian coal is bringing on the spot market but still considerably more expensive than Powder River Basin coal from Wyoming.
Booth, who said his companies will supply about 2 million tons a year, controls extensive holdings in parts of Kentucky where surface mining has already left a vast footprint and degraded streams and rivers.
A hearing officer ruled in 2010 that the state agency that oversees surface mining had failed to adequately consider the cumulative impacts on water, as required by law, before issuing a permit to a Booth operation near Elkhorn City.
A Beshear administration official overruled the hearing officer and allowed the mining. The issue is still being litigated.
Like the legislature and governors before him, Beshear has been happy to enable damage to the environment and public health to keep the coal industry happy.
State Rep. Keith Hall, D-Pike County, brokered the India deal. He serves on the board of advisors of FJS Energy which will be selling the coal to a company in India.
Let's just hope the people of Southeastern Kentucky are not sold out in the process.