Coal debate showcases viewpoints

By: Hope Smith

A Kentucky coal documentary that doesn’t take a side is hard to find, but coal debate giants such as Joe Craft, Jeff Goodell and coal miners were reunited once again Thursday afternoon on the big screen to share their opposing viewpoints surrounding coal.

As part of a lecture series organized by UK’s Earth and Environmental Sciences department, the documentary, “Coal in Kentucky,” was shown in the W. T. Young Library Auditorium. This was the film’s second showing since its completion, and was directed by UK Vis Center media specialist, Steve Bailey.

With the hot debate that coal has brought to campus, the community has seen protests, meetings, press conferences and panels chock full of people fighting to put in their two cents.

Coal in Kentucky” is sponsored by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet and produced by The Media for Research Lab within the Vis Center and the Department of Mining Engineering. Project leaders sought to create a film that offered up thoughts that both support coal mining and oppose it. To make this happen, the crew traveled all over Kentucky in search of opinions.

“Our goal was to present a lot of different perspectives … to present how significant it is,” said Julie Martinez, documentary contributor and UK Vis Center technical communication specialist. “It’s not a philosophical view.”

The documentary provided interviews with coal company executives, politicians, journalists, educators, long-time residents of the coal fields and miners, starting off with a brief history of how coal mining began and finishing with what the future may hold.

Joe Craft, president and CEO of Alliance Coal, said in the documentary that coal, at least for the next ten years, is the most affordable and accessible energy source for us at this time. However, he also mentioned other energy alternatives and renewable resources should be used in the future to take some of the pressure off of the coal industry.

Jeff Goodell, author of “Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future,” stressed how cheaper energy sources will eventually replace coal, that “the end game has begun for coal.”

Bailey said a panel of about 50 people met before production to decide who to involve to gather the greatest span of differing viewpoints. Bailey, who also shot and edited much of the material himself, said he always tried to keep the facts in mind while collecting footage.

“We used what we knew was accurate,” Bailey said. “We didn’t want to foster the idea of polarization.”

Bailey said he was a little surprised about how welcoming some of the coal company executives and job-site managers were concerning the filming of the documentary. Camera men were able to travel into the mines with employees and were permitted to set up their equipment to capture large, mountaintop blasts.

The film explores topics such as mine safety and the laws associated with it, cleaner energy options, the ways coal companies have been cleaning up the coal retrieval and burning process, the economics behind coal extraction and processing and the negative effects coal continues to have on the environment.