Sometimes the news cycle produces a telling confluence. Consider the Herald-Leader on Tuesday.
On the front page, readers learned that from 2007 to 2010, dozens of coal companies in Kentucky forfeited reclamation bonds that didn't come close to repairing the damage from their strip-mining operations.
In one instance, the state required a $29,900 bond for a Knott County mine where the reclamation cost was estimated at $4 million.
When coal companies go out of business and walk away from unreclaimed or inadequately reclaimed mines, the costs get passed on to others, often in the form of polluted water and increased flooding risks.
The situation came to light because the U.S. Office of Surface Mining is forcing Kentucky to increase bonds to more realistic levels. This will be the first adjustment Kentucky has made in bond requirements since the last time the feds forced the issue in 1992, according to the reporting.
Readers could then turn to page A3 and learn that the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet — the same outfit that has let the coal industry off the hook for its reclamation costs all these years — is appealing a judge's order in a case which also reveals the agency's failed oversight of strip-mining.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd had allowed four advocacy groups to intervene in a settlement of water-pollution violations by two large coal companies.
The four groups weren't trying to butt into an enforcement proceeding that was started by a state agency. The groups got the ball rolling with an investigation that turned up huge numbers of violations. They then filed an intent to sue, which spurred state mine regulators into belated action.
In their motion to intervene, the groups said the remedies proposed by the cabinet are inadequate. Shepherd ordered all the parties into mediation.
Energy and Environment Secretary Len Peters contends that allowing the groups a say would "have a chilling effect across all areas of the executive branch of state government" by severely limiting the state's ability to negotiate settlements of environmental violations.
In other words, the Beshear administration is arguing that citizen participation has a chilling effect on government.
The cabinet is also arguing that Shepherd lacked the authority to admit the citizens groups into the case. So, is the administration's view that the judge had the authority only to rubber stamp the cabinet's decision?
This confluence of news reinforces what's long been plain: Kentuckians cannot count on their state government to protect the environment or the public interest from the coal industry.
Until the state's political culture changes, any hope for justice will have to come from the federal government, the courts and, yes, the active participation of citizens.