Something caught our attention last week as we poured through news coverage of this month’s EPA hearings in Frankfort and Pikeville. Specifically, our interest was piqued when supporters of the EPA action to stall coal mining permits claimed that industry supporters are misleading the public by blaming the EPA for job loss in the Eastern Coalfields. The market, they say, and not the EPA is reducing the need for coal jobs in Eastern Kentucky.
That’s true, to an extent. But to say they that the EPA, which through regulation has essentially made the prospect of burning coal in America too costly in the long term, has nothing to do with a decline in coal production, and in turn coal jobs, is in itself misleading.
Of course the EPA is playing a role, and it has so far been to the detriment of our regional economy.
Earlier this year the agency announced a new standard for air pollution that only affects coal-burning plants. In effect, if utilities want to burn coal instead of natural gas or harness solar power, they’re going to have pay for it. And it won’t be cheap. Just ask Kentucky Power, the company that just a few weeks ago announced that they were pulling plans to keep their coal-burning plant near Louisa operational.
This came as no surprise to anyone paying attention during the 2008 election. Then candidate Obama said he’d allow for coal in the nation’s energy portfolio, but he’d make it so cost prohibitive that no one would want to burn it for power generation.
So, what choice do power companies have? They can either spend a billion more dollars retrofitting or upgrading, or they can switch to natural gas, which most are now opting to do.
Simply put, that costs jobs in the coalfields.
Additionally, many industry supporters say there still exists lucrative overseas contracts for Eastern Kentucky coal. But if companies can’t mine the coal because permits are being held up, where does that leave miners who depend on coal for a living?
Perry County Clerk Haven King recently told the Associated Press that people outside of our region may not know how important coal jobs are. We agree, and we think we’re likely to see just how important those jobs are in the coming months. But it leaves us to wonder, will anyone outside of our region care? No one seems to so far.
- The Hazard Herald