EPA officials make unannounced visit to eastern Kentucky

Last week, officials from the United States EPA made an unannounced visit to eastern Kentucky to tour four cities including the city of Lynch, which has two mines waiting for surface mine permits. Gwen Keyes Fleming, regional administrator for EPA Region 4 in Atlanta, and Lisa Garcia, senior advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, on a self-proclaimed “environmental justice tour,” made the visit to listen to the concerns of citizens identified by groups opposing mountain top removal. The trip was unannounced to members of the media with the exception of one public radio station in Louisville. Federal, state and local lawmakers also found themselves in the dark about federal officials touring part of the state.

Hal Rogers, whose district includes the cities EPA toured, expressed his feelings on the visit: “I’m thrilled EPA is suddenly taking an interest in southern and eastern Kentucky. I’m hopeful this means my many congressional requests for answers, Congress’ repeated calls for restraint, the petitions of coal miners to stop the attacks and pleas from mining families to end the permit moratorium will be addressed. Unfortunately, this looks like a blatantly political listening tour from people they only want to hear from.”

The surprise tour also sparked a lively discussion in the Interim Joint Committee on Energy last Friday from state legislators who felt the EPA’s visit perpetuated a one-sided discussion of coal and how it affects the Commonwealth.

“My problem with the federal EPA is that I think they have an agenda, and I think they are tied to groups that have an agenda,”  said House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins.” I think that it is flat wrong for a federal agency to have a drawn opinion without hearing a cross-section of views and opinions come from everyone.”

Rep. Leslie Combs, who represents constituents in Harlan, Letcher and Pike Counties said: “I continue to be disappointed by the EPA and their actions toward Kentucky’s coal industry. I have always believed that you play fair and work together, particularly when the issue impacts the livelihood of so many people. It’s bad enough that the elected officials weren’t invited; to snub our people is just terrible. I do feel that in my position I have worked cooperatively to engage the coal industry with other businesses and industries across the state to meet common ground. This stunt of the EPA is a slap in the face to me, my constituents and all of Kentucky.”

Bill Bissett of the Kentucky Coal Association received late notification of the tour, but unfortunately, the EPA scheduled the visit during a conference in Lexington that many in the mining industry attend annually.

Since 2009, the EPA has failed to act on over 200 water permits awaiting approval for Appalachian coal mines. The majority of those permits are for mines located in Kentucky and West Virginia. A recent congressional report said if EPA continues to hold the mining permits for Kentucky, the state will lose an estimated $127 million in tax revenue annually.

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