Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

June 5, 2014

Connecting to Coal Country

ASHLAND — In Kentucky, the state seems to be factioned three ways: eastern, north-central and western.

Each section of the state houses similar people, customs, accents and economies. But it is undeniably apparent the northeast region is somewhat separated from the rest of the east.

Take a picture of the state and cut it into thirds, the central section stretching from Rowan County to Louisville. In the eastern portion, take out nearly every county north of Lawrence and Johnson and there is your coal country.

Deep southeast Kentucky is the most talked about, watched and debated area of the state, especially regarding coal, its driving force.

From inside east Kentucky, I can see how the counties farther north are different from the mining towns below, but analysts often lump the whole region together.

With coal being the main deciding factor on what counties belong in which region, I feel like I’m facing somewhat of an identity crisis in Ashland.

I talked to our area’s congressional representative, Thomas Massie, R-4th, of Garrison, and Ohio’s Sixth District U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson on Thursday in Greenup. It seemed almost sinful to leave the conversation and not ask the two about the hottest topic in the state: President Obama’s proposed steep EPA regulation for 2030.

As a political reporter, I wanted to write about this issue since the Obama Administration dropped the news on Monday, but I can’t write a story like that without a local angle. Eastern and southern Kentucky had a field day because it was a direct hit to the mines, but what about here? I knew it had an effect, but what could it be?

I looked at Massie and said, “What I’m having trouble with ... is that I’m from Pikeville, which obviously bases its economy around mining. So I’m trying to figure out coal’s role in this region.”

He just smiled and provided an answer that was simple enough to understand. The takeaway: if you rely on electricity in Kentucky, then coal is important to you.

Hearing that coal is a significant utility for manufacturing in the Northeast was oddly comforting to me. Coal is still part of my community, even after moving from one of the most notorious mining counties east of the Mississippi.

I’m not one of those people who lives and dies for coal production, but my dad is a supervisor at the federal level at the Mine Safety and Health Administration offices in Pikeville, and my stepdad is a mine inspector for the state. Coal is just part of my everyday thoughts, like solar and wind power would be for Americans living in the Plains.

One thing I have learned is where there is a will to connect two things (here, it’s coal and the northeast economy), there is a way to find it.

And best believe I will be keeping my eye on these EPA regs with new purpose.

LANA BELLAMY can be reached at lbellamy@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.

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