In an opinion piece published in the Richmond Register this week, Bluegrass Institute acting president Jim Waters heaps praise on the legislation recently introduced by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to force the Environmental Protection Agency’s hand in approving or denying coal mine permits.
McConnell’s office tweeted a link to the op-ed twice (today and yesterday), which makes sense because it’s an article about the legislation the GOP leader introduced to expedite the EPA’s regulatory timeline. But it’s also an article attacking environmental attorney Tom FitzGerald, who has said he’s flirting with the idea of challenging McConnell as a Democrat in next year’s election.
Waters’ piece pits McConnell and FitzGerald against each other, and paints the environmental activist—who’s known for working pretty well with industry when he advocates for stricter regulations—as clueless and out of touch with the minutiae of coal mine permits.
Yet Fitzgerald [sic] actually claims that forcing quicker actions on permits will further harm this amazingly resilient industry?
Fitzgerald warns that imposing such deadlines might “trigger a negative response from the agency where, otherwise, an agency may work with an applicant.”
But this is where Fitzgerald shows his utter lack of understanding concerning the havoc created by the EPA’s regulatory regimen. He probably would be surprised to know that it’s actually better for the mining industry if permits are denied within a reasonable time frame rather than allowed to languish.
Of course, a pattern of “no” decisions will cause a fact to surface about the EPA that naïve citizens might not know: the agency has a harmful bias against Kentucky coal miners.
Still, McConnell challenged the EPA: “Be man enough to say ‘no.’”
Few would argue that the EPA’s tighter regulations haven’t had an effect on the state’s coal industry, but those regulations have also come with numerous other factors that have made it less appealing to mine and burn coal.
Even so, it’s hard to call the coal industry “amazingly resilient” when it’s having trouble adapting to the changing landscape, regulations and all. When American Electric Power announced it would retire at least part of its Big Sandy coal-fired power plant in Eastern Kentucky, it was because it couldn’t justify that continued coal burning was the least-cost option for rate payers, and other power plants are following suit.
This call for “certainty” for the coal industry is valid; it makes sense that a business owner would want to know where he or she stands. But it comes off as slightly hypocritical when industry groups challenge nearly every EPA regulation as it’s unveiled—from greenhouse gas rules to proposed regulations governing the water emitted from power plants—which ties the regulations up in court for years and contributes to regulatory uncertainty.
If FitzGerald does decide to challenge McConnell in 2014, it’s virtually assured that coal will be a major campaign issue, in a way it won’t be if the Democrats go with a more coal-friendly candidate. Those discussions could even lead to some interesting conversations about where the Commonwealth of Kentucky wants to go in the future.
And if this tweet from McConnell’s office is any indication, the senator is trying to begin framing the discussion—and potential challenger—even before he even knows who his opponent might be.