Op-Ed

It's sad to see Beshear shilling for coal industry

At issue | Various articles, editorials on EPA regulation of coal mining

There is no greater duty for Kentucky's highest elected officials than protecting the health and safety of the citizens of the commonwealth. We rely on our governor to take a strong stand for public health and to protect the most vulnerable of Kentucky's citizens from the reckless actions of others who would harm them.

The people of Kentucky have spoken clearly on the issue of clean water. We want clean, pure drinking water. We prove it with every purchase of bottled water.

Lexington's drinking-water supply, the Kentucky River, comes out of Eastern Kentucky, where coal companies are blowing up the mountains. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to institute tougher water-quality standards for conductivity on the streams coming out of these mountains, to reduce the presence of dangerous heavy metals such as manganese and selenium.

But Gov. Steve Beshear is suing the EPA to stop it from implementing these tougher standards. What can Beshear possibly be thinking? Has he completely lost touch with everyday Kentuckians?

In an Oct. 18 press release, Beshear stated, "Kentucky can and does mine coal while at the same time protecting Kentucky's environment."

How can anyone who has seen an active mountaintop removal mine say that? Has Beshear seen the precious headwater streams that are being buried by valley fills? Did he see the orange streams? The mixed mesophytic forests that are being turned into barren grasslands?

Or was he taken by a coal company representative on a tour of the reclaimed mining showplaces like the StoneCrest Golf Course in Prestonsburg?

We know water pollution from mine sites has levels of heavy metals such as manganese that are higher than state regulations allow. Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeepers Alliance found 20,000 violations of the Clean Water Act after checking the documentation of International Coal Group and Frasure Creek Mining for 2007-08. The groups also found mineral discharges up to 40 times the legal limit.

Coal companies — not the public — should pay to clean up these problems .

Beshear also called the EPA's efforts to protect our drinking water supply "arbitrary and unreasonable" and accused the EPA and environmental groups of being out to "eliminate the jobs of an estimated 18,000 Kentucky miners who depend on mining for their livelihood."

There are about 18,000 people employed mining coal in Kentucky. But 62 percent of those miners work underground. Only about 6,000 work on surface mines. The EPA's new rules would not hinder underground mining.

If mountaintop removal were banned, there would be an immediate net increase in the number of Kentuckians mining coal, because coal companies would have to increase underground mining to meet the demand. Since underground mining is much more labor intensive than mountaintop removal, the coal companies would have to hire thousands of underground miners. There would be a job boom, not a decrease in employment.

Last year, a group of angry, drunken miners attacked a peaceful gathering on Larry Gibson's mountain, Kayford Mountain in West Virginia. You can watch it on You Tube by searching "Mountain Madness — Invasion of the Coal Thugs." Gibson has been speaking out against mountaintop removal, and public officials in West Virginia had said environmental groups were waging a "war on coal" and trying to eliminate miners' jobs

Now our governor has joined West Virginia's leaders in misleading about the jobs issue. His comments will only increase the potential for violence in Kentucky coalfields. It's sad to see Beshear acting like a shill for the coal industry.

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