Op-Ed

Coal industry deserves a fair shake

At issue | Nov. 7 Herald-Leader editorial "Kentucky bows to coal — again; Beshear administration overturns halt of questionable mining"

It has been said that in war, the first casualty is the truth. With the current war being waged against Appalachia's coal mining industry by a coalition of federal bureaucrats and environmental activists, that statement is becoming increasingly obvious to those of us who support our coal miners and their families.

False statements, unsupported allegations and faulty science are among the weapons of choice being wielded against the commonwealth's coal industry and the thousands of families who depend on it for their well-being.

The Nov. 7 editorial is one more example of the loose handling of the truth that unfortunately characterizes the current war on coal.

Your writers have acknowledged previously that coal has an important role in the nation's energy future and for Kentucky — and well it should:

■ Coal mining in Kentucky supports 84,000 jobs directly and indirectly.

■ Coal generates more than 90 percent of the electricity in the state and half of the nation's electricity.

■ Thanks to our low-cost electricity, energy-intensive industries employ thousands of men and women in steel, aluminum and motor vehicle manufacturing.

And yet you choose to use that very same low-cost electricity to run your presses in opposition to this vital industry.

Coal mining is among the most highly regulated industries in the country and must comply with numerous federal and state laws, including the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. All of those laws involve extensive regulatory oversight by a myriad of federal and state agencies, as well as an exhaustive and time-consuming permitting process. But the rules are changing — arbitrarily.

Despite already pervasive regulation, the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental activists have banded together to effectively shut down our coal mining industry, based on incomplete and misleading information, and fueled by huge litigation budgets of national interest groups.

A good example of the kind of job-killing litigation that our industry faces was referenced in your recent editorial. The Cambrian permit in Pike County is a good example of the careful approach to permitting taken today in Kentucky — and an example of the untruths and unfounded assumptions being used by the Sierra Club and others.

The permit resulted from a thorough, careful permitting process. Mining will largely occur in areas that were previously mined, thus reducing the environmental impact. Careful design and reclamation will ensure minimal environmental impact.

There is no reasonable basis to shut down Cambrian's lawful operations — other than the Sierra Club's desire to shut down Appalachian coal mining in general.

The hearing officer's decision to suspend the permit was made without the benefit of an evidentiary hearing and was based on extensive speculation and unfounded assumptions that were not supported by any evidence.

Environmental Secretary Len Peters properly found that there weren't sufficient grounds to suspend the permit based on the lack of supporting evidence. The secretary's decision does not deprive the Sierra Club of its underlying permit challenge; it just requires it to prove its case, if it can. Coincidentally the Sierra Club's appeal of the secretary's decision was dismissed in Franklin Circuit Court by Judge Thomas Wingate the day after your editorial was printed.

We in the coal industry simply want what every citizen wants. We expect agencies, hearing officers, judges and all others involved to follow the law and give us fair treatment. That is what Peters and Judge Wingate have done in this case. Our coal miners play by the rules. We only ask that federal appointees don't change the rules in mid-game, which is unfair to everyone.

Coal has been, is and will continue to be a valuable resource for Kentucky and our nation. With the demand for electricity expected to increase by 40 percent in the next 15 years, we must maintain a strong connection to coal and coal mining.

While the proverbial "war on coal" unfortunately continues, it is critical that elected officials, opinion leaders and the media understand the importance of coal and low-cost electricity, and its direct relationship to the economy of the commonwealth of Kentucky.

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