PIKEVILLE — The Obama administration isn’t winning any friends in Eastern Kentucky as news of its blog post advocating the protection of wind jobs made its way through the crowds, during Thursday’s Environmental Protection Agency hearings.
Hundreds of coal miners were attending the hearings to voice their concerns with the EPA, and the perception that the current administration is attempting to kill the coal mining business in Central Appalachia was widely held. As coal miners were listening to speakers, Jim Milliman, with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s office let those in attendance know about a blog post released, that very day, at whitehouse.gov advocating the protection of the “wind industry.”
“Bad timing,” said Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo.
The blog, written by Heather Zichal, the Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, highlighted her remarks at a recent “Windpower 2012” conference and exhibition.
Zichal said that wind power is a “priority for the president.” Perhaps most hurtful to coal miners in Central Appalachia was her remarks that wind power “is an industry with momentum. And it’s an industry that’s putting people back to work.” The timing of Zichal’s remarks added fuel to the fire started when coal was curiously absent from the president’s energy plans on his campaign site last month. After an outcry from Republicans, “clean coal” technology was later added to the plan.
In Pikeville, Stumbo was trying to educate the EPA panel on the primacy laws enacted when he was a freshman representative in the 1980s.
In 1982 the U.S. Secretary of the Interior granted the Commonwealth of Kentucky conditional approval of its surface mining program. The approval transferred the primary regulatory responsibility for enforcing environmental laws concerning surface coal mining operations from the federal to the state level.
Stumbo said that power granted from the Congress, gave Kentucky and other states the right to regulate their own surface mining, provided they enacted laws that were at least as stringent as the national laws. Stumbo said that arrangement has worked for 30 years, but now the EPA wants to change the rules.
Beginning in April 2010, the USEPA began objecting to coal mining permits because they claim the water quality analysis conducted by the Kentucky EPA does not meet their standard. The objections are related to coal mining permits in Kentucky and West Virginia.
“They want to change the standard by regulation, not by law, in two states,” said Stumbo. “Regulators cannot thwart the intent of Congress, without an act of Congress.”
According to Stumbo, the EPA is trying to hold Kentucky and West Virginia to a higher standard than other coal-producing states. “When you get past the emotional part (of how it affects coal miners), it is egregious what they are doing.”
“This is not a dictatorship; it’s a democracy,” Stumbo said. Stumbo says that if the EPA continues to challenge the standards put in place by Kentucky, the state will be forced to litigate the matter in the courts.
Sen. Rand Paul also issued a statement during the hearings on Thursday condemning the EPA and the Obama administration for ignoring Kentucky’s primacy over surface mining laws.
“In objecting to these permits, the EPA has trampled on the rights of the state to oversee its permitting. As I’m sure the EPA is aware, the Clean Water Act specifically gives Kentucky primacy over the 402 permitting scheme. EPA has historically abided by this arrangement. But under the Obama Administration, the coal industry has been subject to ‘regulation by ambush’ on multiple fronts,” Paul said in his statement.
The senator continued, saying, “Most recently, guidance documents put out by the EPA have ‘restricted applicability’ — meaning they only apply to West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, and exclude other states with the same environmental properties. Whether it is through the retroactive denial of permits, onerous regulations on coal-fired power plants, or unreasonable environmental requirements, the policies of this Administration are threatening the very way of life that has sustained these Appalachian communities for generations.”
Stumbo says that surface mining has given Eastern Kentucky one thing that has been always been at a premium in the mountains; flat, develop-able land, that is out of the flood plain.
Stumbo admits that Eastern Kentucky needs to diversify its economy so that it is not reliant on coal production, but says that coal is still viable as an energy source in America and as an export to both Europe and Asia. “America is going to need all of its energy sources,” said Stumbo.
While the White House may be promoting wind industry jobs, it wont be creating any nearby. According to Stumbo, the alternative energy source is not viable in Eastern Kentucky.