Beshear wrong to think coal can be mined “environmentally”

Late last week, Gov. Steve Beshear had an announcement to make: he wants Kentucky to become the “energy capital of the world.” In theory, I guess that doesn’t sound like too bad of a deal. A challenge? Yes. But a problem? No. That is, until Beshear said how he was going to do it.

Beshear’s proposed energy plan (note that there won’t be an actual plan until September) will seek to integrate the development of renewable energy with the death knell of both a clean environment and a thriving Kentucky economy: coal. Beshear wants coal.

I cannot state it any plainer: Steve Beshear wants lots and lots of coal.

During his press conference, the governor said mountaintop removal, the easiest, cheapest and most destructive way of mining coal, could be done “environmentally.” Despite the fact I’m not sure the governor just completed a sentence, he is completely wrong. There is nothing “environmental,” environmentally friendly, green, sustainable or ecologically sound about mountaintop removal, nor will there ever be.

To date, nearly 500 mountains in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia have been leveled, burying thousands of miles of streams that provide drinking water and contaminating even more with toxic waste from coal slurry. The damage done by mountaintop removal is largely irreparable, but even the regulations requiring coal companies to ‘reclaim’ the land to its ‘approximate original contour’ are often ignored and poorly enforced.

But yet, Gov. Beshear thinks mountaintop removal will be good for our state and our communities. Or somehow he has gotten the mountaintop removal that eastern Kentuckians have been devastated by confused with some other kind of mountaintop removal the rest of us don’t know about. It’s a possibility, considering he believes it to be possible to simultaneously increase our state’s dependence on coal and coal-fired power plants, along with the development of coal-to-liquid fuels, while decreasing carbon emissions from electricity. It doesn’t even take much common sense to realize that you can’t have this cake and eat it, too. But then again, Beshear may just be confused.

As some have so astutely pointed out, Beshear has most of his proposed energy plan from scandal-laden and often-incompetent former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher. What this says, both about Beshear’s energy plan and Kentucky’s partisan politics, is that a ruling class of elite politicians from both parties refuse to accept the realities that their constituents have already acknowledged, often moving our state backwards in a number of ways. Global warming is real and the coal industry is exploitative, both of eastern Kentucky’s labor and land. There is more economic opportunity in progressing toward a climate neutral and renewable energy economy than there is in the coal industry. Providing our children with healthcare and a good education is more important than corporate welfare handed out to Peabody Coal. But the elder generations just don’t seem to get these facts. Until they do, the Commonwealth is in a great deal of trouble.

So long as Kentucky’s good ole boy Republicans and Democrats aren’t held accountable for their miserable excuses for public policy, our state will continue to trail the rest of the nation in all meaningful indicators of economic development, education, public health, environmental protection and standard of living. In spite of our many differences, I think it should be easy for all Kentuckians of the current generation to agree on one thing: Neither of the political parties are addressing our needs, and we refuse to allow our state to continue to lag behind the rest of the nation. I chose to stay in Kentucky for a reason, but more and more, our state’s politicians are giving me a reason to get out.