More leadership, fewer platitudes: McConnell antics no help to E. Ky.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. Herald-Leader

Sen. Mitch McConnell dropped into Pikeville and Hazard on behalf of his own re-election last week, but also to help realize his dream of becoming Senate majority leader by electing a Republican to replace retiring Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

After the photo-ops, the Appalachian News Express of Pikeville cut to the chase by putting this question to its readers in an online poll:

"Do you believe Sen. Mitch McConnell's Coal Jobs Protection Act, if passed, would help revive the Central Appalachian coal industry?"

Such polls, we readily admit, are unscientific. Even with that caveat, it's interesting that as of Monday afternoon, 61 percent of the respondents said "no."

They're right, of course.

Market forces, not the regulators reviled by McConnell, are what's killing the coal industry in Eastern Kentucky. And the industry is not rebounding any time soon, say experts, because the region's thin seams are too costly to mine and therefore can't compete on price.

That a big chunk of people also hold out hope that a coal boom could be ignited in Central Appalachia, if only Congress reined in the Environmental Protection Agency, is not surprising. Human nature craves simplicity over wrestling with complex, scary questions about the future. So the 39 percent who said "no" can be forgiven.

What's becoming unforgiveable is the eagerness of politicians like McConnell and his co-sponsor, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and a slew of Kentucky Democrats to oversimplify and demagogue the challenges facing the coal-mining regions of Central Appalachia.

Not even the coal industry blames recent layoffs on the EPA holding up mountaintop mining permits, as McConnell did during his trip.

In its latest earnings report issued last week, Alpha Natural Resources (successor to Massey Energy) said that declining demand for Central Appalachian coal is a "structural phenomenon" and that production of Appalachian coal for export also is "uneconomic," adding to the "general market weakness."

Even if the EPA suspended all clean-air regulations, it would still be cheaper for power plants to buy coal from Wyoming or Western Kentucky or to use natural gas.

And no one but the most rapacious industrialist and coal-state politician would want to turn back the clock on clean air.

During the last Republican administration, states successfully sued the EPA to compel it to enforce the Clean Air Act.

A lot of Eastern Kentuckians, perhaps the majority, are coming to grips with the hard economic truths and are ready to start building something new.

They deserve more from their would-be leaders than deceptions and contrivances like the "war on coal."

What the people of Eastern Kentucky need are leaders who respect their intelligence and are worthy of them. If anyone spots one, please, let us know.