McConnell: I will continue to work to aid those hurt by war on coal

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt talked to a reporter after speaking at Whayne Supply in Hazard on Oct. 9.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt talked to a reporter after speaking at Whayne Supply in Hazard on Oct. 9. Associated Press

Under President Barack Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency didn’t want to come anywhere near Kentucky coal country. Now, the people of Kentucky finally have a friend at the head of the EPA. I was proud when Administrator Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the agency, accepted my invitation to come back to his native Kentucky in his professional capacity.

In Hazard — the heart of coal country — I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Pruitt to listen to the concerns of miners and their families.

Together, we are supporting those hurt by the war on coal.

The EPA recently announced a full repeal of the Obama administration’s so-called Clean Power Plan for existing coal-fired power plants. The CPP was an anti-worker regulation that sought to close coal plants and threaten Kentucky jobs. It would have been devastating to coal miners, their families and communities who benefit from coal’s reliability and affordability.

For years, I led the fight against the CPP and other Obama regulations, encouraging our nation’s governors to reject the administration’s power grab. I also sponsored legislation to block the rules. But Obama and his team refused my invitations to come to Kentucky and listen to those affected by their actions.

Today, Kentucky has friends in the White House and at the EPA, and I applaud their decision to listen to Kentucky workers and repeal the CPP. This latest action builds upon significant progress from Congress and the Trump administration to remove regulatory burdens on coal communities.

First, Congress passed a measure I introduced to repeal the Stream Buffer Rule, which the Obama administration forced onto states on its way out the door. The rule was a blatant power grab which tried to make coal too expensive to mine or use, and it put up to one-third of coal related jobs at risk. I proudly stood with Trump as he signed our legislation to stop this harmful rule.

Next, Trump signed a critical executive order aimed at stopping the Waters of the U.S. rule, which threatened coal jobs and Kentucky agriculture. This rule tried to extend the reach of the federal bureaucracy into every pothole, ditch and puddle in America. By sending the bureaucracies back to the drawing board, Trump protected Kentucky’s coal workers and farm families.

Undoing the damage from the previous administration requires more than rolling back harmful regulations. I helped secure millions of dollars in competitive grants from the U.S. Department of Labor to support workforce training services for laid-off coal miners.

Joining Congressman Hal Rogers, I sponsored two bills to support Eastern Kentucky communities. We introduced the RECLAIM Act, which would build upon a successful pilot program we helped create by releasing $1 billion over five years to help redevelop abandoned mine lands to spur economic growth.

We also sponsored legislation to reform the Appalachian Regional Commission. Although I firmly believe in its mission, ARC can do more to help our commonwealth. That’s why we introduced legislation to shift more of ARC’s funding to the most distressed communities in Appalachia and to require ARC to relocate its headquarters out of Washington and into the region it serves.

I also was proud to lead the effort to secure a permanent extension of the health benefits for thousands of coal miner retirees and their families. If Congress had not acted, more than 3,000 Kentucky miner retirees — and tens of thousands more around the country — would have lost their health benefits. Now, they have the peace of mind in knowing their health benefits are safe.

I proudly stand with Pruitt, Trump and the rest of the administration in listening to and supporting coal communities and Kentucky workers.

Sen. Mitch McConnell is Kentucky’s senior senator and Senate majority leader.