At issue | Aug. 23 column by Rick Clewett, "Coal industry attacks aim to distract voters; Mining can be done without spoiling streams, Chandler right to protect environment"
I won't comment on the column's twisted logic relative to the congressional campaign, but the science and engineering the writer cites is wrong.
The fact that he's a University of Chicago-trained English professor may have something to do with his misunderstanding. Also, the fact that he is active in the Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign likely interjects some bias as well. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. But one cannot selectively ignore facts.
The valley-fill process used in surface mining is no different than the processes used in highway construction or commercial real estate development.
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When earth and rock are removed from a cut, they have to go somewhere. And contrary to Clewett's contention, the same is true for rock removed to construct a deep mine site. Where does he think it goes?
The difference is that, by law, as a surface mine progresses, the mined area has to be restored to "approximate original contour" or AOC, which places much of the rock back on the mountain. When a road project is completed through mountainous terrain, we enjoy the safety and convenience of a four-lane highway with 10-foot shoulders, but all of the dislodged rock remains in a valley fill.
Other sources of pollution pose far more significant problems to water quality than coal mining.
Don't take my word for it. Go to the state's Division of Water Web site and see for yourself. There is a study there that lists sources of stream degradation. Mining is on the list, but well behind chemical and industrial runoff, human and animal waste, agricultural runoff and other sources.
Fact three addresses the issue of conductivity to which Clewett alluded. Conductivity, in its simplest definition, is a liquid's ability to conduct electricity based on dissolved solids. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a new rule that would set the conductivity of mine runoff at 300-500 microsiemens per centimeter. It's the EPA's contention that such levels are necessary to protect aquatic life, particularly mayflies, even if it costs Appalachia tens of thousands of mining jobs.
Clewett stated that he and a friend had conducted testing along the North Fork of the Kentucky River and found "results were high enough to cause concern."
We've conducted our own conductivity measures and found similar results.
For example, tap water at our office in Lexington is 496. Tap water at a hotel in Louisville was 545. Even in our nation's capital, conductivity of tap water at Reagan National Airport was 437.
And the highest to date — a small restaurant in Cumberland — was where conductivity was 677.
How can the EPA hold coal companies to a higher standard than municipal water companies? And why is it imposing the standard only on coal mining and only in Central Appalachia?
It's flawed science being arbitrarily enforced, and that's why the EPA is being sued by the National Mining Association.
Voters will make their own decisions Nov. 2. We are not attempting in any way, shape or form to distract them.
On the contrary, we are battling daily the onslaught of regulation, litigation and legislation that all stand to artificially increase the cost of producing electric power in Kentucky and the scores of other states that use coal.
If the competitive edge we enjoy is gone, our energy-intensive industries will be gone — not to Indiana, but to India.
And we're using every opportunity possible to tell voters what the effects on them and their economy will be. At this point, the outcome looks quite bleak.