The Richmond Register

May 18, 2013

Coal problem worth tackling in Washington and Frankfort

By Jim Waters
Bluegrass Institute

FRANKFORT — Despite hysterical cries from radical environmentalists, neither Sen. Rand Paul’s Defense of Environment and Property Act nor Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Coal Jobs Protection Act would allow activities that bring harm to Kentucky’s wildlife or waterways for the sake of propping up the coal industry.

Instead, these bills put definite limits on a federal bureaucracy that has run roughshod over Kentucky’s constitutional right to regulate its own internal commerce and energy sectors.

The consequences of the Environmental Protection Agency’s newest regulations – especially its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, a rule the EPA claims offers direct benefits of up to only $6.2 million but that carries a price tag of $10 billion – have been severe for all-too-many Kentuckians forced to deal with the economic side effects of the politically fueled policies coming out of Washington these days.

In 2012 alone, Kentucky’s coal industry lost 22 percent of its mining employment. Eastern Kentucky and Appalachian miners were explicitly targeted by the EPA, and experienced a 30-percent decline in employment.

Overall, mining production in Kentucky declined by 91.4 million pounds.

Cause and effect, anyone?

A new report from the Bluegrass Institute reveals that energy prices in the commonwealth are set to rise by 20 percent during the next decade – in no small part due to nonsensical EPA mandates.

Not only will this will take an obvious toll on Kentucky families, but it also places one of Kentucky’s most important economic competitive advantages – low electricity costs – in jeopardy.

Just how long will businesses in other industries like steel and aluminum – and the jobs they provide – remain in the commonwealth if rates start climbing? 

“More than anything, I think this report shows how important coal is to all Kentuckians – not just those in Appalachia,” said Philip Impellizzeri, co-author of the report entitled “2013 Bluegrass Energy Report: The EPA’s Economic Impact on Kentucky.” “The EPA's handling of our energy sector concerns all of us.”

Kentuckians want clean drinking water and crisp, breathable air. But they also want the more than 4,000 coal jobs back lost last year – and then some.

Sometimes these are conflicting goals, and nothing comes free. But it’s the local citizens most affected by these issues and their elected officials who should be balancing them.

Also, there needs to be an acknowledgement that some states may be doing a better job with reducing pollution than others.

The new report reveals that Kentucky during the past couple of decades has achieved a substantial decline in emissions that contribute to air pollution. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions are down by more than 70 percent.

So, what must be done to protect Kentucky’s energy sector from the ever-encroaching fist of the EPA?

Kentucky’s senators have done a fine job taking a stand for our coal miners in Washington. Now, it’s up to state lawmakers to do their part.

This coming Tuesday at an event hosted by TACKLE in Louisville, I will be debating environmental attorney Tom Fitzgerald on the merits of a new model bill sponsored by the Bluegrass Institute that declares in no uncertain terms that coal mined, sold and used exclusively within the borders of the commonwealth is under the sole jurisdiction of state environmental officials, not federal, far-away bureaucrats.

Such a state of affairs would have a profound impact on the economic potential related to the one-third of Kentucky coal that remains within the borders of the commonwealth.

The coal problem is huge but can be solved – through a balanced approach that places the needs of Kentuckians ahead of the ideological bias and incompetence of Washington’s regulators.  

Jim Waters is acting president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at bluegrassbeacon.