Lawmakers in Kentucky are threatening to give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the boot with a largely symbolic measure complaining the agency is over-regulating the state's coal industry.
Senate Energy and Environment Committee Chairman Brandon Smith said Wednesday the EPA has put Kentucky's economic security and thousands of jobs at risk.
Smith, a Republican from the coalfield town of Hazard, is sponsoring a resolution that would declare Kentucky a "sanctuary state" out of reach of the EPA. He said the intent is to send a clear message to the Obama administration that the EPA needs to stop penalizing an industry that employs some 18,000 Kentuckians.
The initial vote on what appears to be a popular but unenforceable resolution is set for Thursday morning.
"I'm not foolish enough to believe we are going to make them do anything," Smith told The Associated Press. "But we have to get back to where we feel like they're not the enemy, that they're not trying to shut us down."
Republicans from Kentucky's congressional delegation are also involved in a wider national campaign attacking the authority of the EPA.
U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., is chairman of the subcommittee on energy and power and is sponsoring a draft bill that would block the EPA from using the law to control heat-trapping pollution. Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., proposed a sweeping $1.9 billion cut — about 18 percent — to the amount of money requested for EPA this year by President Barack Obama.
Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett said the mining industry hopes EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson won't ignore the state resolution as a blank threat but listen to what is a serious concern in the state.
"It's a message about protecting Kentucky jobs and our economy from appointed bureaucrats in Washington D.C.," Bissett said.
Developments in recent days are proof not all of Kentuckians favor that message.
Demonstrators staged a sit-in at Gov. Steve Beshear's Capitol office over the weekend in protest of his support for the mining industry. And about 1,000 protesters gathered for a mass outdoor rally at the Capitol on Monday calling for an end to so-called mountaintop removal mining.
In the controversial method of extracting coal, forests are cleared and rock is blasted apart to get to coal buried underneath. The leftover dirt, rock and rubble usually is dumped into nearby valleys. The practice has been a source of contention for years between coal operators, who say it is the most effective way to get to the coal, and environmentalists, who say it does irreversible damage.
Beshear had met Friday with the demonstrators, telling them that he believes surface mining can be done responsibly, a position they staunchly disagree with. The governor had angered them earlier in the month when he criticized the EPA for trying to impose arbitrary and unreasonable regulations.
"To them I say: 'Get off our backs,'" Beshear shouted, receiving a standing ovation from lawmakers.
Patty Wallace, a member of the environmental group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, complained Wednesday that state lawmakers seem more interested in protecting coal companies than coalfield residents. She said the EPA needs to step up enforcement, not back off.
"We're already a sanctuary state," Wallace said. "They need to be doing their job in Kentucky."
Smith's resolution calls coal "one of the cornerstones of Kentucky's economy," and boasts that one-third of the nation's coal mines are in Kentucky. In the resolution, he contends that the EPA has violated federal law and the state and federal constitutions by blocking the opening of new mines.
EPA spokeswoman Dawn Young didn't have an immediate comment on the Kentucky legislation.
The EPA's defenders say the agency is simply following statutes aimed at protecting people's health — something they say has strong support and is necessary for a healthy economy.
The Beshear administration and the Kentucky Coal Association filed suit last year in U.S. District Court in Pikeville challenging the EPA's decision to block 11 new mines in five eastern Kentucky counties.
The legislation is SJR 99.