HAZARD The Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security, or FACES of Coal, hosted a press conference in the First Federal Center at the Hazard Community and Technical College on Monday prior to the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) open meeting scheduled later that day.
Local elected officials as well as state legislators were on hand to speak about the importance of the coal industry in Kentucky and to criticize OSMs choice to not hear comments in a public forum.
Phil Osborne, the executive director of FACES of Coal in Kentucky said OSM was furthering what he called the ongoing war on coal by trying to change stream protection rules.
He said his organization was formed as a grassroots movement to protect the coal economy, but recently they havent been able to educate others about the industry as much as they had initially hoped because theyve been busy fighting new rules and regulations that Osborne said threaten the coal industrys survival.
We havent been able to go on the offensive very much because we keep playing defense against the EPA (the United States Environmental Protection Agency), OSM and several other agencies that are trying to force coal out of business, Osborne said.
He said the format of the OSM open house should have been a public hearing so the process would have been more open and fair. He noted a recent public hearing in Pikeville in which 6,000 people attended. He said those kinds of numbers would not be seen at an OSM open house.
Theyre (OSM) trying to take the teeth out of our argument, Osborne said. Its not transparent, its not open, its not a discussion.
He said he felt like formatting the meeting as an open house was unfair to everyone, but unfair to the coal industry in particular.
They (OSM) are trying to keep our voice sequestered, Osborne said. Were trying to raise our voice to make sure people know this is a fight worth fighting.
He said that coal employs, directly and indirectly, 84,000 people in Kentucky and is a $10 billion economy in the state. But still, Osborne said, the attacks keep coming.
Its (the coal industry) under fire, he said. Its under siege, not just under fire.
Sate Senator Brandon Smith, of Hazard, said he was a little bit offended when he learned OSM was not allowing a public hearing to take place, but instead had planned an open house.
This station program [in which OSM is trying to go] around to diffuse the argument and diffuse the coarse of the anger people are expressing over whats going on and how little we have to say about it offends me as a senator, Smith said.
He called for a boycott of the open house, telling those present that he would not be upset at all if no one showed up to the open house.
We need to demand a public hearing just like we are entitled to, Smith said. As a senator I am concerned that they are trying to pull this sort of slip-shuck approach about something so important.
He added he would be speaking with the proper officials to set up a public hearing to discuss the issue of the stream protection rule.
He also said the Obama administration is trying to put the coal industry out of business and said if this happens, America will be an energy poor nation.
State Representative Fitz Steele, also of Hazard, echoed this sentiment about the Obama administration supposedly trying to end coal mining.
Coal is our lifeline and coal is Americas ace in the hole, whether the Obama administration wants to realize it or not, Steele said. There are no party lines; its either youre pro-coal or youre anti-coal mining.
Steele represents the number two and three coal-producing counties in Kentucky, and said he considers coal to be his personal Ford, General Motors and GE, adding that its his job to fight for the coal industry.
Its time to stand up and say, enough is enough, Steele said.
Perry County Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble was concerned mostly with what would happen to Perry County if they stopped receiving coal severance money.
If we lost what money we got in Perry County from coal severance, itd be a ghost town, Noble said. We cant afford to lose any more jobs.
Haven King, with Coal Mining Our Future, reiterated the point that Osborne made about being in the middle of a war on coal.
They declared war on Appalachian coal, King said. If its not war then I would like to know what it is.
He said agencies like the EPA and OSM and the people that run them, specifically the EPAs director, Lisa Jackson, arent concerned with how new regulation on the coal industry will affect the people who rely on the industry.
The only thing she (Lisa Jackson) is concerned about is enforcing the clean water act, King said. Then theyre making up their own rules as they go.
He said Coal Mining Our Future is hosting its annual Coal Appreciation Day on August 14, and that along with the regular festivities planned for the day, it will also be a rally against the EPA that day.
We have to attack, King said. Whenever they say that they havent declared war on coal, its false.
Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett ended the press conference with closing statements, summing up the grievances of the pro-coal groups.
He said the main fault of the OSM was not allowing a public hearing where public debate could occur.
They (OSM) try to cite the previous hearing in eastern Kentucky that it was loud, people disagreed, people didnt like what they heard, Bissett said. That is the nature of government; that is the nature of discourse and that is how we come to public policy.
He said people within the industry are angry about the recent changes in regulation, and they need a better forum in which to express that anger.
We have these loud voices because people are concerned, Bissett said. They need to hear loud voices. They need to know that people are concerned.