By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
Gov. Steve Beshear’s cozy relationship with the coal industry landed him on a national ethics watchdog group’s list of America’s worst governors.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) ranked Beshear the nation’s seventh-worst governor, behind six Republicans from Georgia, Maine, Virginia, Texas, Florida and Wisconsin.
The group rates elected officials based on its standards of ethics.
Beshear’s “inclusion stems from the politicized firing of the head of the state’s mine permitting division and from allowing representatives of the coal industry to exert improper influence over official appointments,” report says.
Beshear, through his press office, declined to comment on the list by CREW.
Beshear is frequently criticized by environmental groups for accommodating coal interests. The governor famously called for federal environmental regulators to “get off our backs” during a speech to the General Assembly.
He has also received significant contributions from the coal industry for his gubernatorial campaigns and his inauguration committee.
In November 2009, Ron Mills, who headed up the state’s mine permitting process, was dismissed in a move CREW alleges was influenced by Alliance Resource Partners, the coal company headed by Joe Craft. Mills refused to approve permits for mining operations which hadn’t secured the rights for all the land under which it would be mining — the so-called “33 and a third rule.”
An employee of Alliance emailed others in the mining industry that Mills would be fired before Mills himself had been informed. Mills later filed a wrongful termination suit and the state eventually settled for $270,000.
During depositions taken during Mills’ suit, the Alliance employee, Rusty Ashcroft, testified he’d been informed of the pending dismissal “by an individual in the governor’s office,” the CREW report states.
Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Len Peters said Mills was dismissed because of performance issues, but there were no citations for poor performance in Mill’s personnel file and his supervisor, Carl Campbell, testified Mills appropriately performed his duties.
Campbell himself was dismissed with cause in 2011 and said he was never given a reason for his firing.
The CREW report also alleges Alliance and Craft influenced Beshear’s appointments to a federal panel on mountaintop removal.
It says Ashcroft emailed Beshear’s chief of staff at the time, Adam Edelen, who is now state auditor, providing names of three people Craft and Alliance wanted Beshear to nominate. Two of the three were later nominated by the governor.
CREW’s report also criticized Beshear for appointing Ashcroft to the Kentucky Genealogy Survey Advisory Board and hiring a former Alliance employee in the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.