Democrats talk about coal; GOP a no-show

ASHLAND — At the 2009 East Kentucky Leadership Conference, keynote speaker Ron Eller, a University of Kentucky professor, caused an uproar by calling for an end to all surface mining in Kentucky.

Friday, at a debate for four of the Democratic U.S. Senate candidates, moderator Neil Middleton, news director for Hazard's WYMT-TV, asked the candidates whether they agreed with that stance.

Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, a Hazard physician, pointed out that his home and office are on surface mine sites. He accused Attorney General Jack Conway, his leading opponent, of wanting to slow surface mining.

Conway said that's not true. He said that he wants surface mining to be done in an "environmentally responsible way" and that he opposed President George W. Bush's "out-the-door" stream-fill regulations enacted shortly before he left office in 2008.

Mongiardo said development of new and better uses for coal should be a priority for Eastern Kentucky.

"Eight to ten coal-to-liquid plants could be supported," he said.

The government needs to work with private companies to strategically mine land that can be used for roads and adventure tourism, he said.

Candidate Maurice Sweeney, a small-business man who grew up on a dairy farm in Jefferson County, said he didn't know of a way to end surface mining. He said he wanted to direct more federal research and development money to Kentucky for clean-coal technology and better mining practices.

Candidate Darlene Price, a former U.S. customs worker from Whitley City, said preserving mountaintops helps tourism, and deep mines employ more people.

"You do not have to destroy a mountain to get the coal out of it," she said.

On another subject, Conway said his work for a governor from Eastern Kentucky, Paul Patton, convinced him the state needs an infusion of federal transportation dollars.

"You need a U.S. senator that understands that transportation is important," Conway said.

He called the road between Harlan and Hindman one of the narrowest, most winding in the state. Roads are important to attracting industry and jobs, as well as tourism.

Republican candidates were invited to speak at the East Kentucky Leadership Conference, but none came.