MAC: Mines and Communities

Bill To Slow Mountaintop Mining In Kentucky Appears Dead

Published by MAC on 2006-02-10
Source: Associated Press

Bill to slow mountaintop mining in Kentucky appears dead

by ROGER ALFORD, Associated Press, FRANKFORT, Ky

10th February 2006

Legislators from Kentucky's coal region are sitting on a bill that could significantly slow mountaintop removal mining by barring companies from pushing unearthed dirt and rock into valleys.

The bill has been stuck in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee for more than a month. Ranking members of the committee, including Chairman Jim Gooch, D-Providence, oppose the legislation and aren't allowing it to come up for a vote.

Environmentalists support the bill as a means to combat mountaintop removal coal mining, which they say takes such a heavy toll on nature that it should be banned.

In the procedure, mountaintops are removed with explosives and heavy equipment to expose coal seams. The excess dirt and rock unearthed in the process are dumped into valleys, destroying wildlife habitat and contaminating streams with sediment and acid discharge.

"The lawmakers from coal-mining areas have seen that it's not that much of a problem," said Gooch, who has received $2,700 in campaign contributions for the May primary election from coal operators.

State Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, one of the bill's co-sponsors, said he has seen the destruction mountaintop removal coal mining causes.

"I was just absolutely appalled at what we're doing to eastern Kentucky in the name of boosting Kentucky's economy," Wayne said. "And so I've really turned passionate about the fact that we're destroying the mountains in the name of making money. And it's unconscionable."

Wayne said the bill would restrict mountaintop removal by banning the practice of filling valleys with discarded dirt and rock. Currently, the practice is regulated by the federal government, and has been the subject of lawsuits in Kentucky and West Virginia.

The Kentucky legislation, Wayne said, deserves a vote. He said he believes the coal industry, normally a major contributor to legislative elections, is exerting pressure to kill the bill.

"I think the coal industry probably has a stranglehold on the committee right now," Wayne said. "The coal industry distorts this issue significantly in terms of the damage that it does to our communities and human lives and the environment. And some of the members on the committee evidently go along with the coal industry."

Rep. W. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, a vice chairman of the natural resources committee, said he is offended that legislators from outside the coalfields are pushing the bill.

"We think we know best being from that region what needs to be done in that region," Hall said. "I don't stick my nose in Louisville's business and tell them what they should do in their city. And we're the same independent mountain people that feel like we know what's best for our region."

Hall said legislators from the area didn't sign onto the bill because it might hurt an industry important to the region's economy.

"I don't want to do anything that's going to be detrimental to properly mined coal," Hall said. "I'm not going to bite the hand that feeds me."

Members of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, an anti-mountaintop removal environmental group, are expected to visit the Capitol en masse on Feb. 20 to push for the bill.

Wayne said he doesn't see sponsoring a bill opposing mountaintop removal as overstepping his bounds.

"The fact of the matter is those mountains belong to all of us," he said. "It's important for us to realize that many of those local legislators are caught between the interests of the coal industry, saving jobs for their constituents, and trying to balance that against the ruining of their environment. And a lot of times they cannot step out and be leaders on this issue."

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