Coal industry attacks aim to distract voters

At issue | Aug. 9 commentary by Roger Nicholson, "No apologies for targeting coal enemies; Chandler voted for carbon tax; Conway's stand too uncertain"

The Aug. 9 edition of The Herald-Leader contained the latest in a long series of op-eds by writers representing portions of the Appalachian coal industry and aimed at anything that moves and does not wear a "Friends of Coal" T-shirt.

The targets in this piece, written by Roger Nicholson, vice president of the International Coal Group, were U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, who represents the 6th District of Kentucky (the Bluegrass region) and Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, who is a candidate for the Senate seat being vacated by Jim Bunning.

Conway's sin is that he has apparently not carved the word "coal" deeply enough into his chest. Chandler's sin is that he voted for H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, and that he had the audacity to co-sponsor the Clean Water Protection Act designed to protect the feeder streams of Eastern Kentucky, on which our supply of drinking water depends, from high levels of sedimentation.

That sedimentation results from the coal industry's habit of cutting corners by filing valleys and burying streams with mining waste.

Nicholson claims that putting an end to the practice of pushing the rubble resulting from mountaintop removal and other forms of strip mining into the valleys would "eliminate most coal mining in Appalachia."

But this is false for two reasons.

First, somewhere near half of the coal mining done in Eastern Kentucky is deep mining that does not require pushing "spoil" into valleys; and the situation is similar in West Virginia.

Second, a good deal of surface mining could go on in Eastern Kentucky without filling valleys and burying streams. It would cost somewhat more, but it is completely possible. If the coal industry were a bit less greedy and a bit more environmentally responsible, it would have better public relations and might not have to spend so much money on phony grass-roots groups like "Friends of Coal."

Co-sponsoring the Clean Water Protection Act was a courageous and appropriate action, not an assault on the coal industry.

It was appropriate action for Chandler because he represents the 6th District, which is down-stream from much of the surface mining in Eastern Kentucky. The Kentucky River, which flows through the district, has already been damaged by the silt and sediment washed down the forks that form the Kentucky River.

(A friend and I recently did conductivity tests on stretches of the North Fork from Carr Creek Lake to Jackson, and all of the results were high enough to cause concern.)

By co-sponsoring the Clean Water Protection Act, Chandler is defending the well-being of his constituents and all the other Kentuckians who live downstream. That's what he is supposed to do.

Turning to Chandler's vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, being for a sustainable environment is not same as being against coal. To call the Waxman-Markey bill simply a "carbon tax" is a ploy to get people to oppose it without going to the trouble to understand what the bill would do or why it got enough support to pass in the House.

For the last several months, Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell and other conservative Republicans have been trying to tie their opponents to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Leader Harry Reid and the Obama administration as if that connection were the kiss of death. Nicholson has merely hopped on their bandwagon.

Some of us happen to think that, while not perfect, Pelosi, Reid and Obama have been doing much good work. In any case, Chandler is no one's puppet. The issues we face are complicated and deserve reasoned consideration and debate. Chandler has tried to resist the monsoons of partisan politics, delve into the issues and work for the well-being of his district and the country. For that, he deserves our votes.