Kentucky’s Leading Democrat Takes on Obama’s EPA

Published November 18, 2011

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has sent a letter to President Obama expressing frustration with the adverse impact of Environmental Protection Agency regulations on Kentucky miners’ ability to produce coal.

“Kentucky has experienced tremendous frustration over the uncertainty and overreaching policies of the EPA surrounding the Clean Water Act,” Beshear wrote, noting an eight-month period of negotiations that saw dozens of coal mining permit applications placed on federal hold ended on a sour note. “We based many months of negotiations on a prior agreement with EPA headquarters, made through direct conversations I had with Administrator Lisa Jackson, that if Kentucky and Region IV arrived at a mutually acceptable solution, EPA would give its approval.”

In the end, the EPA never granted approval.

“We were extremely disappointed when, after months of negotiation and representations by EPA Region IV that a settlement had been reached,” Beshear continued in his letter, “EPA notified the Cabinet that EPA headquarters would not approve the settlement.”

Obama’s Anti-Coal Agenda

For Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, EPA’s obstructionism came as no surprise.

“In Eastern Kentucky, it is no secret that President Barack Obama and his administration are decidedly opposed to the production of coal in Appalachia,” Bissett said. “From his campaign trail comments in 2008 about ‘bankrupting’ coal-fired power plants, to an overreaching EPA, the current administration in Washington is determined to force the United States into embracing other forms of electricity production by any means necessary.”

Disastrous Economic Consequences

The fallout of these anti-coal policies could prove economically disastrous, not just in Kentucky—where mining produces an estimated $124 million in annual severance taxes for the state and provides approximately 3,800 jobs—but for the nation as well. 

The Kentucky Office of Energy Policy’s Division of Fossil Fuels and Utility Services reports that in 2006 the industry paid more than $1 billion in direct wages to 17,669 employees, while “indirectly providing three additional jobs for every miner employed,” according to its 2007-08 Kentucky Coal Facts guide. In addition, the agency reports, the “average weekly wage for coal miners in Kentucky was $1,126 during 2006.”

Nationally, Kentucky provides coal to 30 other states—and internationally to four other countries, according to the guide. 
Nation’s Energy Supply SuppressedApproximately 90 percent of the electric power plants in these 30 states obtain their coal from Kentucky. That means a drop in Kentucky coal production has a far-reaching national impact. 

“The problem is there are all these permits that are in limbo, and those permits mean jobs and economic recovery for Kentucky, which has a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the country,” said Jim Waters, vice president of policy and communications for the Kentucky-based Bluegrass Institute. 

“The hang-up on these permits is that the EPA is just trying to flex its muscle,” Waters said.

Bipartisan Support for Coal

Waters points to the non-partisan nature of support for coal-mining in the state as evidence of its importance. Beshear, a Democrat, has taken a strong stance against fellow Democrat Obama’s EPA over coal mining issues and permitting delays.

“That’s one of the reasons this governor was reelected,” Waters said. “This incumbent governor has stood up to the EPA and even sued on behalf of the coal industry.”

Cheryl Chumley ([email protected]) writes from northern Virginia.