FRANKFORT — Rep. Fitz Steele has been appointed as the new chair of the Kentucky Legislature’s House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, filling the spot that was previously occupied by Rep. Jim Gooch of District 12. Gooch announced on Dec. 28 that he is switching his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, citing disagreements with President Obama’s environmental policies as the reason.
House of Representatives leaders in Frankfort are responsible for appointing new chair members to House committees. In a press release sent to the media on Dec. 30, House Speaker Greg Stumbo is quoted as saying, “Rep. Steele has built a strong reputation as a defender of sensible environmental laws and is an excellent choice to lead this committee as we ready for the legislative session.”
Steele is running for re-election in 2016. Since 2009, he has represented the 84th District, which covers all of Perry County and part of Harlan County. Rep. Steele was already serving as the vice chair for the Natural Resources and Environment Committee, when his appointment to chair was announced. Two neighboring representatives are also part of this committee; Tim Couch of District 90 and Cluster Howard of District 91.
“Taking on this role is a tremendous honor, and I’m glad I will have the chance to lead this committee,” Rep. Steele said in the press release, “It will give me a better chance to serve my district and especially the coal regions both here and in Western Kentucky. I am a firm believer that we can build on Kentucky’s unparalleled beauty and still maintain some of the nation’s lowest electricity rates. That is my goal going forward.”
In addition to his new role as chairman, Rep. Steele will continue serving as a member of the following committees: Banking and Insurance; Economic Development and Tourism; Special Subcommittee on Energy; and Transportation.
He also is a member of the Federal Environmental Regulation Impact Assessment Task Force, which the General Assembly authorized this year to study the impact federal environmental rule changes will have on Kentucky.
“The Natural Resources and Environment Committee will play a major role when it comes to reviewing and potentially implementing the findings this task force will have,” Rep. Steele said. “I will do all I can to make sure Kentucky does not face an unfair burden when it comes to changes out of Washington.”
The House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment oversees matters pertaining to forestry; mining; fish and wildlife resources; soil and water conservation; flood control and water usage; drainage and irrigation; geology and water resources; waterways and dams; oil, gas and salt water wells; state and national parks; drainage districts; water pollution; air pollution; management of waste; and protection of the environment.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.