6:46am

Tue June 7, 2011
All Politics are Local

"War on Coal" Political Rhetoric

In the past week, several Kentucky politicians have spoken out against the federal Environmental Protection Agency and what they call its “war on coal.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Governor Steve Beshear and State Representative Jim Gooch Jr. have all complained that EPA regulation is endangering the state’s coal industry.

Secretary of the Energy and Environment Cabinet Len Peters says one of the reasons for the outrage is several different EPA regulations all being implemented at once.

“It’s a perfect storm,” Peters said. “It’s a perfect storm in terms of the regulatory aspect against the utilities as well as what’s occurring with the mining of coal today.”

But for politicians in Kentucky, this rhetoric is nothing new. Al Cross is the director of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. He says coal has done a good job selling itself as essential to the state’s economy, even though it makes up a very small percentage of Kentucky’s gross state product—less than manufacturing, retail trade and transportation, to name a few.

“That being said, it is so important to a region like eastern Kentucky and secondarily to many counties in western Kentucky that it has a political influence that outstrips its economic influence,” Cross said.

It’s talk that’s bound to escalate as the November election nears, but Cross doesn’t expect Governor Beshear to take such an explicitly pro-coal stance that he alienates his supporters in the environmental community. Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams has expressed support for the coal industry. But Independent Gatewood Galbraith has spoken out against the controversial strip mining technique mountaintop removal.