Thanks to the Herald-Leader for giving U.S. Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell enough words for their familiar anti-Environmental Protection Agency rant to get around to stating their real goal: doing away with important protections for Kentucky's abundant water resources.
Their essay also revealed what has become clear: They have no new ideas on how to revitalize Eastern Kentucky's economy.
That might be OK if they'd get out of the way and let others lead. There are some really good ideas that could use their support. But pretending that stopping modest efforts to protect Kentucky's water and air is somehow going to create an economic boom is a real disservice. Presenting a political agenda as an economic plan gets us nowhere.
One good idea is the Power+ Initiative announced earlier this year to, among other things, accelerate the release of $1 billion in funds from the Abandoned Mine Lands program. That would provide jobs and economic stimulus in communities where they are most needed.
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Instead, McConnell and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, whose district would benefit most, dismissed the idea. Rogers even refused to let the initiative be discussed at the recent SOAR gathering.
What a lost opportunity. Their leadership could help make sure the new funds are used for economic revitalization and not limited to cleaning up the coal industry's legacy pollution.
Allowing the coal industry and other polluters to create more public-health and environmental problems by attacking clean-water rules (based on more than 1,200 peer-reviewed scientific studies and 1 million public comments) makes no sense.
When people and our land, water and air are not healthy, that is a drain on our economy. The public-health costs are well documented, both in Eastern Kentucky, where coal is mined and in communities all over Kentucky where toxic emissions fill our air from the burning of coal.
McConnell and Paul want EPA's clean-water programs to be limited to "navigable" streams. How many thousands of miles of streams would that eliminate from federal protection (including some once-navigable streams now filled with silt from strip mining.)? Mostly they want coal companies to be able to pollute at will at their mines operating in the vital headwater streams that feed many of the important rivers (Kentucky, Big Sandy, Cumberland, Licking) that serve much of the state.
McConnell and Paul don't say that directly, of course. Instead they call for returning "control over local waters to state governments." Those are nice-sounding words if one doesn't know that on numerous occasions in recent years the Beshear administration has acknowledged that it does not have the capacity (and perhaps the political will) to enforce the Clean Water Act. That policy is seemingly embraced by a General Assembly led by climate-change deniers.
As this newspaper has pointed out, state environmental protection programs are among those to receive the most severe cuts in budgets proposed by Gov. Steve Beshear and approved by legislators.
On numerous occasions it has taken the action of citizens' groups to point out thousands of documented water-pollution violations sitting on the desks of state officials yet going unnoticed (including falsified reports purportedly submitted to correct previously submitted falsified reports).
So, a strong federal effort to protect our streams and wetlands is welcome. Even a modest effort would be an improvement.
And the reality is the new clean-water rules really do little more than better define what has been EPA's approach for decades.
Cleaning up the coal industry's legacy pollution seems a better idea than letting them create more of it. Community and economic development projects extend the benefits of the environmental effort. It makes good sense.