‘Kentucky Rising’ asks justified questions about governor’s disregard for EPA


University of Kentucky student Shannon Frazer, pictured in the Kernel office on 10/14/09. Photo by Ed Matthews

Column by Shannon Frazer. E-mail [email protected].

You have to respect people with standards — standards of humanity.

The 14 sit-in protesters in Frankfort this weekend, dubbed “Kentucky Rising,” fit that bill.

These weren’t just any people. Kentucky authors and activists Wendell Berry, Silas House and Erik Reece, as well as professors, a retired coal miner, a graduate student, a filmmaker and others, joined in the initiative.

And the weekend’s sit-in wasn’t just for show. The group believed the state administration got it wrong when it put coal companies’ interests first and disregarded a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandate.

According to an Oct. 18, 2010, news release from Gov. Beshear’s government web page, Beshear filed a lawsuit against the EPA, with support from the Kentucky Coal Association and the Energy and Environment Cabinet in District Court, concerning coal mining permits under the EPA’s Clean Water Act.

“The arbitrary and unreasonable decisions being made by the EPA threaten to end the responsible mining of coal and eliminate the jobs of an estimated 18,000 Kentucky miners who depend on mining for their livelihood,” Beshear said in the release.

Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett explained further.

“The recent actions by the federal EPA forced us to take this action…to make certain coal companies and coal miners can continue working to provide energy resources to keep the lights on in Kentucky homes and businesses,” Bissett said in the news release.

Sure, by letting the coal companies continue to operate, even with EPA violations, Beshear and his pro-coal supporters may think that they are doing humanity a favor. Jobs, energy, profits: These are all good things in the short-term.

Beshear said, “Kentucky can mine coal while at the same time protecting Kentucky’s environment,” but how can such a paradox exist?

Take a critical look at the EPA regulation violations Beshear so readily disregarded.

According to a Jan. 13 news release on the EPA website, entities within Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee had defied the Clean Water Act in the last quarter of 2010.

“When left uncontrolled, water pollution can…contaminate food, drinking water supplies and recreational waterways, and thereby pose a threat to public health,” the release said.

So, is that what you really want, Kentucky? Jobs in an industry that the state government allows to contaminate our food and water supplies?

If harming your loved ones, your neighbors and your environment is, in your view, only a side effect to producing coal to maintain Kentucky’s economy, then let that be your prerogative. Don’t recognize the damage coal mining has had on the state.

But if you see the inconsistencies and short-sightedness of the coal industry and state government officials, do something about it. Recognize your standards. The 14 protesters in Frankfort did.