PIKEVILLE — There were not many voices in support for the EPA during Thursday’s hearings in Pikeville, but there were some who felt the EPA’s objections to coal mining permits were justified.
Supporters from environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices, though few, were in the audience Thursday as the EPA listened to mostly bitter comments about their 2010 objections to Kentucky Division of Waters approval of coal mining permits.
“We feel that the EPA is rightfully stepping in where the state has failed to act,” said Alex DeSha, an associate with the Sierra Club. DeSha says that the EPA should uphold all of its objections and revoke the states delegated authority to rule on such matters.
DeSha said that he also attended the meetings early this week in Frankfort, and while in the minority, said that the proceedings overall have been cordial.
“There has been some heckling,” said DeSha, adding that its understandable that people are scared when they are being told that the EPA is killing their jobs. “But it’s simply not true.”
DeSha points to recent study conducted by MSHA, that indicates that since the EPA’s enhanced review of mountaintop removal permits began, Appalachian coal jobs have increased by 6 percent.
Dr. Matt Wasson, with Appalachian Voices, echoed the comments of DeSha. Wasson says that, yes, their have been layoffs, but in no instance have those layoffs ever been attributed to these permits.
According to its website, Appalachian Voices is an environmental non-profit committed to protecting the land, air and water of the central and southern Appalachian region, focusing on reducing coal’s impact on the region and advancing our vision for a cleaner energy future.
“This is all political theater for politicians to come in and blame the EPA,” says Wasson. “Picking a fight with the EPA is not a battle worth winning, because it will not create a single job.”
“The EPA is just a scapegoat,” said Wasson, “when it is really the invisible hand of the free market, and good coal just can’t compete.”
DeSha says coal mining in Eastern Kentucky is under attack, but that attack is from the economy and geology, from competition with natural gas and higher sulfur coal found out west, a warm winter, and so forth.
It came to light in February that natural gas competitors have used Sierra Club to advance their cause.
DeSha offered no easy answer when asked about donations made to the Sierra Club on behalf of natural gas companies, such as Chesapeake, which has donated an estimated $26 million. Sierra Club came under fire when the donations came to light for “sleeping with the enemy.” The Sierra Club used the money to fund it’s “Beyond Coal” campaign.
Immediately after the perceived conflict of interest came to light, the Sierra Club’s executive director, Michael Brune, acknowledged the donations and said he had decided to cut them off after he took over in 2010.
“We wouldn’t do it again,” said DeSha.