Troubling resignation; environmentalist chides Beshear

Gov. Steve Beshear should take to heart the words of environmentalist Tom FitzGerald, who resigned from two state boards last week to protest the administration's environmental and energy policies.

In 27 years as director of the Kentucky Resources Council, FitzGerald has worked with industry, the legislature, local governments and gubernatorial administrations on countless controversies and kept a working relationship, not to mention their (sometimes grudging) respect.

So, when FitzGerald says he "cannot in good conscience" continue to serve as a Beshear appointee, it's an extraordinary statement that something is wrong.

In his letter to Beshear, FitzGerald cited "serial" budget cuts to environmental protection and the unexplained firing last week of Carl Campbell as commissioner of natural resources.

Environmental protection has been compromised by a 26-percent reduction in General Fund support during Beshear's four years, FitzGerald wrote. The latest 2-percent cut came last week.

FitzGerald chides Beshear for giving no priority to protecting programs that safeguard air, land and water, the "building blocks" of a healthy state and economy.

Also, "indefensible," he says, "only one of those programs (Title V air permits) collects from regulated sources the fees necessary to offset the cost of regulation, leaving the taxpayers to subsidize other pollution control programs. "

To that we'd add, a big "Amen."

Kentucky could substantially increase environmental permitting fees and remain competitive with other states.

FitzGerald goes on to say that Campbell's firing "brought into sharp relief my growing concern that the administration has lost its bearing regarding regulation of the coal industry."

Campbell's departure comes at an inopportune time, as his office was "attempting to increase mining reclamation bonds to appropriate levels (despite resistance within the industry)," says FitzGerald.

Also, Campbell had been working with federal regulators to finally begin properly considering the cumulative impact of strip-mining on water, says FitzGerald, who also cites the office's work to "stem the disturbing trend towards greater numbers of violations within the coal industry (the rate of industry compliance in FY 2010 was the lowest since 1990)."

Energy and Environment Secretary Len Peters has given no reason for firing Campbell, who has said he does not know the reason.

Peters' choice to replace Campbell will be revealing.

Also revealing will be what happens to the initiatives cited by FitzGerald.

There's little recourse when a coal company fails to properly reclaim a mining site and has posted an insufficient bond.

The Herald-Leader earlier this year reported that there have been at least 32 instances in recent years of Kentucky coal operators going out of business after having posted bonds inadequate to reclaim mine sites.

The state's generous approach to bonding coal operators has harsh consequences for those who live or own property downstream. In addition to polluting water, inadequate reclamation can cause and worsen flooding.

Flooding also has been exacerbated by Kentucky's historic failure to properly assess the cumulative impacts of mining when considering new strip-mine permits.

Unless Beshear and Peters want their legacy to be making more and more of Kentucky uninhabitable, they'll choose carefully when naming Campbell's successor.