Since the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) refused to host a "listening session" in coal country, U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell held a pro-coal listening session of his own today in Eastern Kentucky at the University of Pikeville.
Attending the session in Pikeville, Kentucky were eastern Kentucky community leaders, small business owners and coal mining families negatively affected by the President's War on Coal.
During the hearing, Senator McConnell said, "Since the EPA will not come to Pikeville to hear your message, I will deliver Pikeville's message to them. I have called today's session so that those in the region affected by this administration's War on Coal will finally have a chance to be heard, just as I personally spoke on behalf of Kentuckians at a recent EPA hearing in Washington. And following the testimony today, I plan on taking the experiences you share with me directly to the EPA, so it can hear from all of us how President Obama's War on Coal is negatively affecting our coal miners and economy in eastern Kentucky."
The following are Senator McConnell's full remarks (as prepared) from the event and the list of panel participants:
Hello, and welcome to this important listening session that will afford the voices of coal country and eastern Kentucky the opportunity to be heard in Washington, D.C.
I want to start by thanking University of Pikeville President Dr. James Hurley for inviting us and providing this facility to hold this event today. He is a great leader of the university, he cares deeply about this region, and he is devoted to providing quality education for the people of eastern Kentucky. Thank you, President Hurley.
Of course, I also would like to thank University of Pikeville Chancellor Paul Patton. Governor Patton, you ably led this school to new heights, including the opening of this new Coal Building, just as you so ably led the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It's good to see you.
I would note that I am the proud holder of an honorary degree from the University of Pikeville - Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine. And in no small part I have Governor Patton to thank.
I don't want it to escape notice what I just mentioned--that the building we're assembled in today on the University of Pikeville campus is called The Coal Building. Coal literally built this place, as it has built infrastructure and economic security for so many across our great Commonwealth over the years.
I organized this session because the EPA claimed it wanted citizen input on the future carbon regulations it intends to impose on existing power plants. However, its listening sessions were only scheduled for cities like New York, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco--cities far away from coal country.
There were 11 listening sessions in all, but the closest one to eastern Kentucky was all the way in Atlanta, Georgia--requiring Kentuckians to make a 14-hour round trip drive to attend. Clearly, the EPA only wanted to hear applause for their efforts.
I don't think it's right that the EPA would consider taking such drastic steps without listening to the people who would be most affected--Kentucky's coal miners, their families, and the many people throughout the state whose jobs and well-being depend on coal. And I couldn't think of a more fitting place than Pikeville. On numerous occasions, I asked the EPA to hold a listening session in Pikeville, but the bureaucracy has not deigned to respond to my invitation.
So if the EPA will not come to Pikeville to hear your message, I will deliver Pikeville's message to them. I have called today's session so that those in the region affected by this administration's War on Coal will finally have a chance to be heard, just as I personally spoke on behalf of Kentuckians at a recent EPA hearing in Washington.
And following the testimony today, I plan on taking the experiences you share with me directly to the EPA, so it can hear from all of us how President Obama's War on Coal is negatively affecting our coal miners and economy in eastern Kentucky.
I want to thank Congressman Hal Rogers and Governor Steve Beshear for the very important efforts they will announce next week to forge a stronger economic future for eastern Kentucky. I appreciate the work they're doing and I look forward to seeing its results.
It is obviously vital that we consider eastern Kentucky's future. But it is equally important that we not give up on eastern Kentucky's present. And coal is key to the present in eastern Kentucky.
Coal is crucial to the region's people, economy, and way of life. Coal employs thousands of people in the Bluegrass State. Coal pays more than $1 billion dollars in direct wages to Kentuckians every year. For every miner employed, three more Kentuckians hold jobs indirectly dependent on coal.
That's why for many of us, to put it in the words of one of our panelists today, "Coal Keeps the Lights On."
Some who write for what I would call the more liberal state newspapers' editorial boards claim that the recent steep decline in coal jobs is not about overly harsh EPA regulations. They claim there's no such thing as this administration's War on Coal. It's just the natural decline of coal, they say.
But that just doesn't square with the facts. Yes, we need an "all of the above" strategy to develop our domestic energy resources. But coal provides roughly 40 percent the country's electricity and over 90 percent of Kentucky's electricity. The Commonwealth benefits from some of the lowest energy prices in the nation thanks to our supply of coal. Indeed, those low energy prices are one of our best competitive advantages in relation to other states.
It is, in large part, this administration's War on Coal that has caused the number of Kentucky coal jobs to plummet from 18,600 in 2009, when President Obama took office, to fewer than 13,000 today.
If you don't believe there is a War on Coal, just listen to the president. The president has openly stated his intentions for the coal industry. He has said, and I quote:
"If somebody wants to build a coal power plant, they can--it's just that it will bankrupt them."
Clearly this administration--with its radical regulatory ideology--wants to eliminate coal as a viable fuel source and they don't care who it hurts.
One of the first things this president did upon taking office in 2009 was to try to push through Congress his cap-and-tax bill, which was designed to hike utility rates and bankrupt the coal industry.
It could not even pass a Congress entirely controlled by his own party. That's how extreme this president's agenda is. Because he could not get these unheard-of energy taxes enacted into law, now he is trying to enact them through the bureaucracy. He has unleashed the EPA to fulfill the same extreme mandates that were in his cap-and-tax bill.
Well, the EPA is not going to do anything without hearing from Kentucky first. The messages you share with me today, I will deliver directly to the EPA in Washington so they hear firsthand how this War on Coal is hurting Kentucky miners and their families.
We're going to hear testimony from three panels today. The first consists of managers and owners of Kentucky companies in the energy sector who can directly testify to the effect the War on Coal is having on their industry, the jobs that are lost, and more.
The second panel consists of Kentucky miners and others in the industry who are being directly impacted by the EPA's drastic tactics. They will tell us how the loss of coal jobs is affecting them, their families, and their communities.
This panel will include perhaps Kentucky's most famous coal miner and star singer and songwriter, Jimmy Rose. Jimmy, your spotlighting this issue for a national audience has made Kentucky proud, and drawn new attention to the human costs of the president's War on Coal.
Our final panel consists of elected officials from the region who will testify how the damage done to the coal industry is hurting their constituents and their communities.
Because I want to hear from as many Kentuckians as possible, we're also circulating comment cards for all of you who are interested in sharing your story about how the War on Coal is impacting you, your family, your business and your community. Please write down as much as you like and my staff will collect the cards at the end of the session. Your contributions will also be included in the testimony I take back to the EPA.
I'm also pleased that my friends Congressman Hal Rogers and Senator Rand Paul have provided written statements for today's proceedings that will be included in the packet we deliver to the EPA. The more voices we present to them, the better.
I'm looking forward to hearing what you all have to say, and I'm looking forward to delivering your message to the EPA. Let's begin with our first panel.
PANEL 1: Industry Representatives
James H. Booth, President and CEO of Booth Energy
Monty Boyd, President and CEO of Whayne Supply Company
Charles J. Baird, Chairman of Coal Operators and Associates
Kathy Walker, President and CEO of Elm Street Resources
David Moss, Vice President of the Kentucky Coal Association
PANEL 2: Miners and Families
Jimmy Rose, veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, former coal miner, and third-place finisher on America's Got Talent
Howard Abshire, Former Production Foreman
Gary Lockhart, Manager of Security and Contractors, James River Coal Company
Anita Miller, Safety Director, Appolo Fuels
Traci Nolen, Training and Program Development Coordinator, Eastern Kentucky
Concentrated Employment Program
PANEL 3: Elected Officials
State Senator Robert Stivers, President, Kentucky State Senate
State Senator Brandon Smith, Majority Whip, Kentucky State Senate
State Representative Jill York
State Representative Fitz Steele
Albey Brock, County Judge-Executive, Bell County