Kentucky's leaders should consider the health hazards of mining, moving and burning coal as they craft the state's energy policy, an environmental group said Tuesday.
The Kentucky Environmental Foundation, based in Berea, released a 44-page "health-impact assessment" on coal and sent copies to Gov. Steve Beshear and the General Assembly.
The statement cites published, peer-reviewed scientific studies from recent years that document health risks associated with coal. They include air and water pollution from mountaintop-removal mining, mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, and toxic metals, including arsenic and cadmium, that are found in coal-waste storage ponds. Burning coal also releases heat-trapping gases that contribute to climate change, the statement says.
Just as state government can require an environmental-impact statement before it undertakes a public construction project, it should require a health-impact statement before it passes laws or regulations concerning coal, said Elizabeth Crowe, executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation.
"Unfortunately, many of Kentucky's elected officials seem concerned about protecting the image and profits of the coal industry with little if any time donated to consideration about the impact on public health," Crowe said. "After all, this is the state in which legislators last year proposed a bill that would make Kentucky a 'sanctuary state' for the coal industry."
The group is endorsing House Bill 167, which would encourage greater energy efficiency in Kentucky and set ambitious goals for the mandatory use of renewable energy sources by the state's electric utilities. The bill is assigned to the House Tourism Development and Energy Committee.
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, is the bill's sponsor. Marzian said a renewable-energy bill that she filed last year received discussion in committee but not a vote. She doesn't expect this year's bill to get a vote, either. Neither the House's Democratic leaders nor a majority of its members are likely to support a measure critical of coal, which employs thousands in Eastern Kentucky, she said.
"People are very afraid of change. It takes education," Marzian said. "I'd love to have done it 10 years ago, but these things take a while."
Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, dismissed the environmental group's findings.
"At a time when Americans are living longer than ever before, it is clear that anti-coal activists are more than willing to scare us with health concerns in an attempt to move both our nation and Kentucky away from coal-powered electricity," Bissett said. "The truth is, their scare tactics will cause Kentucky's electricity rates to skyrocket with little to no actual improvement in the air."