Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Science/Environment

February 25, 2010

Coal legislators defend industry as activists call for change

FRANFORT — Coal came under attack Thursday in Frankfort from a citizen activist group but not much is likely to change according to some key lawmakers.

About 40 representatives of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, some of whom are former miners and who live in coal producing counties, said coal interests dominate the state legislature and their concerns about the environment and the health and safety of those living near surface mines aren’t heard in Frankfort.

The coal industry has “had a stronghold there for a long time,” said Rick Handshoe, a retired police officer from Floyd County. Lawmakers “have never asked us what we want.”

Patty Wallace of Lawrence County said coal interests intimidate those who question the effects of surface mining and especially the practice known as mountaintop removal and the industry’s financial might and influence with key lawmakers drowns out their voices.

Carl Shoupe, a disabled miner and former union organizer from Harlan County, said the political system is corrupt, and he pointed to recent vote fraud investigations in southeastern Kentucky as evidence.

Handshoe said Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, doesn’t even live in Floyd County which he represents. Stumbo said that’s not true.

“Well, I live in Floyd County and I pay taxes there and I vote there,” said Stumbo later. He said he maintains a home in Lexington during the week because of the time-consuming nature of his job as Speaker, something he began doing when he was Attorney General from 2003-2007.

Stumbo said his young daughter attends school in Lexington, as Handshoe claimed.

“She’s been enrolled there ever since I was Attorney General and we chose not to move her,” Stumbo said, adding that he goes home to Floyd County on weekends.

The group, which included author, essayist, environmentalist and poet Wendell Berry of Henry County, called on Stumbo and House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, to enter into “genuine, open conversation with all stakeholders” about the coal industry, call for an end to “extreme and sometimes violent speech that is being aimed at citizens” speaking out on the environmental impact of mining, to remove what they said is too many pro-coal lawmakers from the Natural Resources Committee and to remove its chairman Jim Gooch.

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