By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service
By asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to shift enforcement and oversight of the AK Steel Coke Plant cleanup to Kentucky environmental officials, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell is hoping to speed up the slow process of making the more than 100 acres of the closed plant ready for new development.
That’s certainly a worthy goal, and we would welcome any efforts to make the largest parcel of industrial property inside the city limits of Ashland go from a mostly unusable “brown field” to a prime piece of industrial property.
However, we can’t help but wonder if McConnell’s sudden interest in the coke plant property is generated more by his 2014 re-election campaign than his interest in economic development in Ashland. After all, if the minority leader of the U.S. Senate was primarily interested in promoting economic development, one would have thought he would have consulted with local leaders before writing to the EPA. Maybe together they could have come up with more ways to encourage the cleanup of the coke plant property than just having one politician write to the EPA.
But both City Manager Steve Corbitt and state Rep. Kevin Sinnette, the Democrat who represents Ashland in the Kentucky House of Representatives, said they knew nothing about McConnell’s letter before the senator announced he had sent it.
In his letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarty, McConnell said the EPA had identified various environmental issues regarding the coke plant cleanup, including “issues related to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Consequently, the EPA is proceeding with enforcement actions that will likely result in a prolonged cleanup process,” McConnell said, adding that the Kentucky Energy and Environmental Cabinet previously submitted its own request that authority for the “characterization and cleanup” be transfered to the state agency.
Both Corbitt and Sinnette said they were not aware of enforcement actions pending against AK Steel as it related to the plant’s closure and cleanup. City Manager Steve Corbitt said the city has always gotten very little information from AK Steel about its plans to clean up the property.
“It’s not a city function,” he said. “They would need to satisfy state and federal requirements. We depend on what the state or the feds tell us.”
Sinnette also was not aware of McConnell’s request, but like Corbitt, he supported the move.
We questions just how much influence McConnell will have with the appointees of President Barack Obama who run the EPA. After all, this in the Republican Senate leader who announced immediately after the 2010 midterm elections that his number one goal for the next two years would be assuring that Obama is not re-elected.
As we all know, Kentucky’s senior senator failed to accomplish that goal. However, we suspect that because of McConnell’s record of opposing just about everything Obama supports, we suspect defeating McConnell in 2014 would be one of the president’s biggest political goals in 2014.
Just how much money the national Democratic Party is willing to spend to help Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, or whoever the party’s nominee is for U.S. senator, defeat McConnell remains to be seen. However, it is a certainty that President Obama is not going to do anything to help Mitch McConnell win another six-year term. The President would like nothing better than to not have McConnell around blocking his programs during his last two years in office. Therefore, he is unlikely to do anything that could earn votes for McConnell in Kentucky. And helping cleanup the coke plant property would gain support for him in this community.
Mitch McConnell is a savvy politician who rarely misses an opportunity to gain support. Six years ago, McConnell used the $10 million earmark for city’s riverfront to gain support in this community. While cleaning up the coke plant property is not on the scale of the riverfront project, it is something he could boast about doing for this community when campaigning here.
Like Sinnette and Corbitt, we think turning over responsibility for the coke plant cleanup could reduce the time needed to get the property ready for development, but frankly, we don’t care who oversees the cleanup. We just want to see the property cleaned up safely and thoroughly. We don’t really care who gets the credit. Just do it — and soon.