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May 6, 2013

Kentucky to the EPA: ‘Man up’ or shut up

FRANKFORT — During recent stops in Pikeville and Hazard, Sen. Mitch McConnell took aim at the Environmental Protection Agency’s rope-a-dope policy that Kentucky’s senior senator rightly describes as an “illegitimate” and “back-door means” to permanently destroy eastern Kentucky’s economic lifeline, which — like 93 percent of the commonwealth’s electricity — is powered by coal.

The EPA’s policies have resulted in more than 40 applications for new coal mines — and thousands of jobs they would create — lingering in regulatory purgatory.

McConnell warned miners, operators, owners and suppliers at Whayne Supply in Pikeville that the EPA is “trivializing your livelihood and our economy to pursue their radical agenda.”

It’s time to push back, he said, while announcing legislation that gives the EPA 270 days to either approve or deny applications for permits that deal with potential runoff from proposed mines, and 90 days to begin the approval process for permits that allow clearing of soil in order to reach coal in the ground. It also gives the feds up to a year to assess environmental impacts of proposed mines.

Applications not acted upon by the deadline would be automatically approved.

McConnell acknowledged that while the reasonable, but expedited, permitting process created by his bill might result in some permits being denied, it’s better than remaining in limbo.

When permits are “left hanging in purgatory,” it affects applicants’ investment decisions and ability to move forward, he said.

But radical environmentalists and their enablers seem to neither care nor – perhaps worse – understand the need for a reasonable regulatory atmosphere that offers more certainty. 

The threat posed by over-regulation – whether it involves food supplies, health-care policies or Appalachian coal – often is not cost so much as the uncertainty caused by changing rules in the middle of the game.

Certainty encourages new businesses to start and existing ones to expand. Uncertainty puts economic growth on hold.

Tom Fitzgerald, an environmental attorney who heads the Kentucky Resources Council, tried to sell an Associated Press reporter on the notion that the “firm timeframes” in McConnell’s bill “are not realistic,” and could result inunintended consequences that cause more harm to the coal industry than it already has suffered. 

● Dozens of permit applications have been awaiting action by the environmental emperors at the EPA since as far back as 2008.

● Permits have been retroactively denied after being approved to move forward.

● The rules of the regulatory game are frequently and arbitrarily changed in the middle of play.

● We have seen 100 of the nation’s 500 coal-fired power plants closed during the past four years.

● Nearly 4,000 miners in eastern Kentucky, or 30 percent of the industry’s workforce, have lost their jobs.

● Coal production is down 28 percent in Kentucky’s Appalachian region.

● Market conditions have worsened.

● The past two winters have been mild, reducing energy demand even further.

Yet Fitzgerald actually claims that forcing quicker actions on permits will further harm this amazingly resilient industry?

Fitzgerald warns that imposing such deadlines might “trigger a negative response from the agency where, otherwise, an agency may work with an applicant.”

But this is where Fitzgerald shows his utter lack of understanding concerning the havoc created by the EPA’s regulatory regimen. He probably would be surprised to know that it’s actually better for the mining industry if permits are denied within a reasonable time frame rather than allowed to languish.

Of course, a pattern of “no” decisions will cause a fact to surface about the EPA that naïve citizens might not know: the agency has a harmful bias against Kentucky coal miners.

Still, McConnell challenged the EPA: “Be man enough to say ‘no.’”

That’s easier said than done for a regulatory beast that growls green but whimpers yellow.

Jim Waters is acting president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky's free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.freedomkentucky.org/bluegrassbeacon.

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