Coal operations controlled by one of SOAR's most prominent leaders, Inez businessman James H. Booth, owe $682,076 in overdue mine-safety fines.
Booth's delinquent fines are far less than the millions owed by some Appalachian coal operators. But Booth is the one who is identified with the bipartisan initiative that's trying to restart Eastern Kentucky's long-stalled economy.
Launched in 2013 by Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers in response to a sharp drop in coal jobs, Shaping our Appalachian Region will hold its second summit Feb. 16 in Pikeville.
Booth serves on SOAR's 15-person executive board as one of nine members who are not elected officials. His company, Booth Energy, is one of SOAR's first two "founding partners."
Booth also serves as a University of Kentucky trustee and on the University of Pikeville board. He has chaired Morehead State University's board, is the state Chamber of Commerce's past president and was co-chair of a Beshear inaugural.
Booth, who worked weekends as an underground miner to pay his way through Morehead, has diverse business and philanthropic interests. Unlike some who made fortunes in coal, he stayed in the mountains and lives in his native Martin County.
Booth's success and service symbolize Eastern Kentucky's potential.
His unpaid mine-safety fines symbolize its baggage.
Kentucky operators accounted for six of the top 10 delinquencies identified by NPR and the Mine Safety and Health News in an investigation aired late last year. Booth was not in the top 10. West Virginia billionaire Jim Justice, who operates mines in both states, was, with $2.1 million past due at the time. The highest unpaid penalties, $4.7 million, belonged to Virginian Horace Garrison Hill who operated D&C Mining in Harlan County.
Not paying safety fines may be the norm for privately-held coal companies in Appalachia. But it's not the norm in the larger business world or even in the mining industry. Coal, metals and mineral mining operations pay 90 percent of their health and safety fines on time. The small subset that doesn't is more dangerous and accounts for more injuries to workers, according to NPR's analysis.
What has this to do with SOAR? Potential new employers and residents will doubt that a fair shake is possible in a place long dominated by an industry that shows contempt for the rules. Residents will doubt the possibility of real change.
Coal mining and preparation operations controlled by Booth owed $365,515 as of Dec. 19 and by last week $682,076 in overdue fines, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
wwWe tried to contact Booth and were referred to a Booth Energy vice president who never responded after our initial contact.
In a 2013 profile, the Herald-Leader's John Cheves documented at least $955,000 in political contributions by Booth and his wife Linda over the previous 15 years. Lack of money isn't the problem.
As Eastern Kentucky strives to turn over a new leaf, Booth can lead in the most effective way possible — by example — simply by making good on what he owes.