Coal supporters ask for understanding

By Becca Clemons

[email protected]

In response to the anti-mountaintop removal and surface mining protests by the activists in Gov. Steve Beshear’s office, coal industry advocates say their biggest issue with the activists is a lack of understanding of the mining industry in Eastern Kentucky.

“I think part of the problem is there’s not a good understanding of 21st century mining practices,” Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett said. “The great strides we’ve made in worker health and safety are rarely recognized.”

State Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence, said surface mining is often described in a manner that’s “meant to play on people’s emotions.”

“The folks that are against it, through their rhetoric, describe it in a way that it’s not actually being done,” Gooch said.

He said the term “mine waste” is misleading and that the actual material being dumped into “streams” is dirt and rock.

“None of us would be for dumping any kind of waste into streams,” Gooch said. “When you’re dumping rock and dirt — they call that a stream — now, that’s not a stream.”

Bissett said his organization has used science and facts to enact public policy, not emotion.

He said mining jobs positively affect Kentuckians’ lives.

“In today’s economy, every job is important and critical,” Bissett said.

He said coal’s opponents focus only on the active mining process and not on the whole story, including the economic development connected to coal jobs and post-mine land use.

“We would not be able to mine these particular coal reserves without the process of surface mining,” Bissett said. “It’s also important to recognize that negatively affecting coal production impacts the entire economy of the commonwealth. GE, Toyota, Lexmark, many other manufacturers are in Kentucky because of our low-cost electricity. Tampering with that benefit puts every electricity-dependent job at risk.

“I talk more about electricity than coal because it touches more people’s lives.”

Gooch also discussed valley fields that are created when the tops of mountains are removed, and that material is used to make flat land. He said that land that can be used to build many structures.

“In Knox County, sports complexes, hospitals, housing developments and airports are only a few of the ways mountaintop mining enhances the economic development opportunities for eastern Kentucky,” Bissett said.

He also addressed the concerns some coal opponents have over the naming of Wildcat Coal Lodge, the UK basketball players’ dorm.

“It’s facilities like this that help with recruitment and pursuing future national championships,” Bissett said. “The coal industry stepped up to help UK and Coach (John) Calipari, and it’s often the case these activists will complain but offer no solutions.”

“These protesters suggest more information be shared about mining — which is a good thing, because it’s an important story to tell when more than 90 percent of Kentucky’s electricity production depends on our coal miners, both surface and underground,” Bissett said.

More coverage:

Protesters enter fourth day in the Capitol

Wendell Berry reflects on removal of papers

Sit-in, then sleep-in at Capitol