Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency have completed their two-day tour of eastern Kentucky, but leaders in the coal industry are criticizing the trip and WFPL’s coverage as one-sided.
On Thursday, WFPL Environment Reporter Erica Peterson reported residents describing ongoing problems with coal dust, mountaintop removal and the lack of state and local regulation. Several residents complained about pollution and water contamination , urging EPA Region Four administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming to increase enforcement.
However, in a statement released Friday, Charles Baird, chairman of the Coal Operators and Associates, ripped federal regulators and grassroots activists for seeking to close down the mining industry completely. Baird alleged Louisville’s public radio station was bias in its coverage of the tour, which he called a “photo-op.”
I find it extremely disturbing that Lisa Jackson, head of the Environment Protection Agency, would send members of her staff into Eastern Kentucky to study the purported environmental effects of coal mining with people who admittedly would like nothing more than to shut coal mining down completely. There was no public notice of this visit, other than to a hand-picked liberal radio station in Louisville. There was no outreach to state or federal officeholders, local chambers of commerce, coal mining professionals and other business organizations or the media.
So much for transparency in this administration.
When this photo-op is over, we’d like to request that the EPA officials extend their visit and see what real coal miners look like and what the process itself looks like today – not the pick and shovel mining they’ll see should they tour the Portal 31 tourist attraction. Of course, we don’t know if that’s on their agenda because they didn’t publish it.
Despite Baird’s contention, a notice of the tour was sent in advance and other media outlets and state officials were present at the public meetings.
From Peterson’s report:
“I asked Gwen Keyes Fleming when I interviewed her whether there was any pressure to invite members of the government or coal supporters to these meetings and she said they were just here for a short amount of time, they came to discuss a few specific permits. I asked her again, is it the job of the EPA to protect jobs? She said ‘it is our job to find a balance.'”
She adds that other media outlets covered the meetings and state officials were also present.
The state’s political establishment has also come out swinging against the agency. In a statement released Thursday, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., denounced the tour as part of Coal Miners’ Appreciation Week.