Since the Environmental 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 in Pikeville, Kentucky on December 6th. Yesterday, every comment and testimony from the hearing was delivered to the EPA. Senator McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor today regarding the powerful testimony and comments he heard from Kentuckians:
"I rise today to give voice to the people of eastern Kentucky who are hurting due to this administration's War on Coal. Recently, I traveled to Pikeville, Kentucky, to hear first-hand from coal miners, their families, those in the energy industry, and others about how their communities are being ravaged by the EPA's excessive, overly burdensome regulations on coal.
"The EPA did not want to listen to these folks, so I did. I held this listening session to put a human face on the suffering that is being felt in Appalachia due in large part to this administration's War on Coal. I want to share with my colleagues just a little of what I heard.
"Behind me is a picture of Howard Abshire. Howard is a former production foreman and a fourth-generation coal miner. Sitting in the audience during his testimony was Howard's son, Griffin, a fifth-generation coal miner.
"Both Howard and Griffin are out of work. Two of the over 5,000 Kentucky jobs lost in the War on Coal were theirs.
"Howard is holding up a piece of coal to show us just what's at stake--coal mining is what the EPA wants to stamp out, but coal is also the powerful substance that powers our homes, provides light and heat, and fuels the commerce of goods and services worldwide.
""This is coal,' he said when he held that piece up. "This keeps the lights on.'
"Howard is only one of many coal miners laid off for lack of coal mining work. "Look in our schools. Look in our nursing homes. Look in our pharmacies. We're hurting,' he said. "We need help. We don't want to be bailed out. We want to work.'
"Seated next to Howard is Jimmy Rose, a veteran and former coal miner. Jimmy was perhaps the most famous attendee at the listening session because he brought attention to the War on Coal to a national television audience on "America's Got Talent.' His song "Coal Keeps the Lights On' spoke directly to the hardship in his community largely caused by the War on Coal.
""It's in our heritage, it's in our blood,' Jimmy said. Addressing the administration, Jimmy said: "Look at what you're doing, and who you're affecting Coal mining is a way of life, just like I say in the song. Don't kill our way of life. I hope one day I can always say coal kept the lights on.'
"I also heard from Monty Boyd, the owner of Whayne Supply Company and Walker Machinery, a mining and construction equipment distributor that serves Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, and Ohio. The companies employ 1,900 people and operate 25 store locations.
"Whayne Supply this year celebrated 100 years of operations. Yet, this is what Monty had to say:
"At a time when I should be excited about our future, I am full of concern and uncertainty because our future outlook is bleak due to the regulatory ambush on the coal industry by the EPA.'
"He went on to say,
"Coal in Kentucky is more than just mining. It is the driving force that keeps our energy rates affordable, keeps our manufacturing sector competitive, and is the economic life blood of eastern Kentucky.'
"I am disheartened to continually see the federal government and the EPA take such an anti-business stance that destroys an industry that is vital to our regional economy. The federal government appears to be choosing the winners and losers in regard to the energy sector of America.'
"Those are strong words from someone with a good perspective on Kentucky's coal industry. I also heard from Anita Miller, a manager of safety for Apollo Fuels in Middlesboro. She has worked in the industry for more than 15 years. She had this to say:
"My son walked earlier than my daughter every time she would try to stand up, he would either knock her down, or put his hand on her head so she couldn't stand. This is what is happening to the coal industry.'
"Anita went on to say:
"Every time we try to stand up for ourselves, someone either knocks or holds us down You can't really buy anything or make plans for the future, because you don't know what the future holds.'
"My wish is that the people who are trying so hard to destroy the coal industry would just stop for a minute and think about the hot showers they take, the lights they turn on, and that first hot cup of coffee in the morning, and remember that it came from electricity powered by coal.'
"I couldn't agree more with what Anita says. It is apparently too easy for EPA bureaucrats in Washington to make decisions that have a huge impact on the people of eastern Kentucky, without thinking of the consequences. And, I might add, without bothering to meet face-to-face with the people they hurt.
"The EPA scheduled listening sessions for its new regulations only in cities far away from coal country, both geographically and philosophically--cities including New York, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco. They held 11 listening sessions in all, but the closest one to eastern Kentucky was in Atlanta, requiring Kentuckians to make a 14-hour round trip drive to attend.
"Clearly, the EPA did not want real input.
"That is why I convened the listening session in Pikeville that resulted in the powerful testimony I've shared with my colleagues today. Since the EPA would not come to Kentucky, I've brought the voices of Kentuckians to the EPA.
"We held three panels, composed of those in the coal industry, miners and their families, and local elected officials to illuminate the disruption in these communities caused in large part by the War on Coal.
"Many of my constituents filled out comment cards also, and my office delivered them yesterday to the EPA along with the hearing testimony.
"I want to leave my colleagues with the comments of one Kentuckian, Justine Bradford, who is a retired teacher in Pikeville. Here is what she wrote:
"Dear EPA, will you please tell Santa Claus all we want for Christmas this year is to be able to work. Here in eastern Kentucky, we too are real people. Please help us find a job! Come and work in our shoes.'
"The people of eastern Kentucky believe in coal, and with good reason. The abundance of coal in America, and in Kentucky in particular, is a God-given resource. For decades it has powered our factories, transported our goods, and warmed our homes.
"Yes, the blessings of coal come with the responsibility to use it in an environmentally friendly way. But they also come with the responsibility to see that hard-working Kentuckians who rely on coal for an honest day's work and steady pay are given every chance to earn that.
"And they come with the right for all Americans to take full advantage of this God-given domestic resource to produce clean, cheap, and safe energy.
"These things have been true for many decades. There's no reason they shouldn't still hold true now.
"Eastern Kentucky must look for some economic opportunities beyond coal. I support that, and I know the people of the region can accomplish great things. It's vital that we consider eastern Kentucky's future.
"But let me make this point: It is equally vital that we not give up on eastern Kentucky's present. And coal is the key to the present in eastern Kentucky.
"So the EPA has the testimony I heard in Pikeville, whether they want it or not. Eastern Kentucky is going to continue to push back in this War on Coal.
"This war isn't over yet, not by a long shot. This president will be gone in three years, and the coal will still be in the ground.
"The people of the region are resilient, and they will keep fighting. So I'm very hopeful for a positive outlook in eastern Kentucky and the Appalachian region. And I will defend them in every way that I can."