HAZARD — In the face of hundreds of jobs cut in the coal industry in the past few months, Congressman Hal Rogers, members of the Kentucky Coal Association, and the chairmen of the FACES of Coal initiative came to Hazard Friday to discuss the future of coal. They also discussed what they said is the work that needs to be done in the federal government to protect the coal industry.
Bill Bissett with Kentucky Coal Association said the one word he would use to describe the current status of the Eastern Kentucky coal industry is “uncertain.” He said that there are two main reasons the coal industry has seen such a massive amount of job loss in Perry County: the unseasonably warm weather and the current stance on coal by the Obama administration and the EPA.
Bill Osborne with the FACES of Coal campaign in Kentucky said that FACES is actually an acronym for “Federation for American Coal, Energy, and Security.” It was started by people looking to protect the interests of those working in and benefiting from the mining industry.
“It was an organization that was created three years ago, back in 2009, to talk about the positive impact,” said Osborne. “We have a very positive story to tell.”
According to Osborne, through direct and indirect means, the coal industry employs more than 84,000 people across the state.
“I grew up in Clark County, Winchester. There is not an ounce of coal anywhere is Clark County to be mined,” said Osborne, adding that despite that, many people in Clark County are employed by the coal industry through the power plants and the headquarters for Clark Energy and East Kentucky Power Cooperative.
This is often the same for much of the rest of the state, he added, since many people working on rail roads, power plants, steel mills, and manufacturing jobs are indirectly employed because of the coal industry.
FACES of Coal attempts to make those connections to show the true gravity of the impact of the loss of one coal job.
“That is part of the FACES mission, is to take that message out to areas that don’t produce coal, not the Eastern or Western Coalfields, but Louisville, Lexington, northern Kentucky, Paducah,” he continued.
Congressman Rogers said that he spends a lot of his time in Congress fighting EPA regulation to combat some of the coal industry job loss. Recently, the appropriations committee, which Rogers chairs, cut the EPA budget by around 25 percent, and he said he is hoping to cut it more.
Lisa Jackson is the administrator for the EPA, and according to Rogers, her policy in opposition to coal has cost the region hundreds of jobs.
“We have lost in our immediate region over the last few months some 1,500 to 2,000 coal mining jobs,” said Rogers. “I call it strangulation by regulation.”
Rogers said Jackson is an appointed bureaucrat, and her appointment to the top EPA post by President Obama illustrates that the Obama administration is against the coal industry in Appalachia.
“Lisa Jackson wouldn’t know a ballot box from a box of chicken, and yet here she is ruling whole industries,” said Rogers.
Since Jackson was not elected but appointed, he said she does not necessarily have the best interest of the people she serves in mind.
“When I asked her how many permits the EPA had granted to mine coal in the last couple of years, she couldn’t tell me,” Rogers noted. “There hasn’t been any; you haven’t issued a permit since 2009.”
While coal jobs and the future production of coal remains a major concern for the congressman, he said he remains hopeful that if a new administration is voted into office in November, that Eastern Kentucky could see some turn around in the number of coal jobs.
“It is not just Lisa Jackson, it goes well beyond her,” Rogers added. “Until we get a changing attitude in the White House it is not going to get much better. Hopefully, after then we will get a new president in January, we can change the personnel of the EPA.”
Bill Bissett said that the important thing to remember is that as America and other nations grow, their power needs will no longer be met and coal will become a factor in expanding nations.
“This country is going to need more electricity and this planet is going to need more electricity,” said Bissett. “When they need electricity they are going to come here for coal.”