There’s a storm brewing in Kentucky among coal companies and state government. A coalition of environmental and citizen groups has been calling out some of the nation’s biggest coal companies for egregious violations of the Clean Water Act — violations numbering in the tens of thousands over just a few years. The strangest part? Every time the people have the goods on yet another lawbreaking operation, the Commonwealth steps in, sweetheart deal in hand, to insulate the coal barons from justice. If you’re a Kentucky resident wondering whose interests your elected officials serve these days, you can now rest assured: it isn’t yours.
In Kentucky, environmental protection of the commonwealth’s precious natural resources and waterways is supposed to be handled by the Energy and Environment Cabinet (EEC). Unfortunately, there are a whole lot of energy company interests and not many environmental concerns locked away in that Cabinet; if you pried it open, you might find it filled with coal.
Industry running a state is nothing new. Poultry-industry giants like Perdue dictate Maryland’s and Georgia’s agricultural policies. King oil holds court in Alaska on everything that even touches on energy. But the influence of coal operators in Kentucky is something special. This is how far Kentucky is shamelessly willing to go: local senator Brandon Smith (R-Hazard), Chair of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, just introduced a resolution to make Kentucky a coal company “sanctuary” where federal environmental laws and Environmental Protection Agency jurisdiction magically disappear. If Senator Smith gets his way, they’ll be a regulatory wall around Kentucky to keep DC meddlers out of coal company activity that poisons local communities and their drinking water.
Perhaps Senator Smith’s attempt to bar EPA from the Commonwealth arises from his lack of understanding that the Clean Water Act is every bit as much a law as any other law of the land, including labor laws. Like our environmental laws, the federal prohibition on child labor, enacted earlier in the 20th century, also inconvenienced the coal industry, taking away a much-used source of cheap labor. But you don’t hear Senator Smith screaming that our Labor Department should be barred from Kentucky so mines can freely employ children once again.
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