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What I Heard From Kentuckians During Field Hearing In Coal Country


Location: Washington, DC

I was disappointed but not surprised that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) once again showed it cares little for the opinions of eastern Kentuckians. Recently, the EPA proposed new job-killing regulations and scheduled "listening sessions" to receive public input. But they scheduled them only in cities far away from coal country--cities including New York, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco. Clearly, the EPA did not want real input.

So I held my own listening session in Pikeville to put a human face on the suffering that is being felt there due in large part to this president's War on Coal. We heard from those in the coal industry, miners and their families, and local elected officials.

One man who spoke was Howard Abshire, a former production foreman and a fourth-generation coal miner. He is one of many miners laid off for lack of work. During the listening session, Howard held up a piece of coal to show us what's at stake. "This is coal," he stated. "This keeps the lights on. We're hurting. We need help. We don't want to be bailed out. We want to work."

I heard from 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.

Addressing the Obama 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 Anita Miller, a manager of safety for Apollo Fuels in Middlesboro. She's worked in the industry for more than 15 years. She told me: "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."

"My wish is that the people who are trying so hard to destroy the coal industry would just…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," she added.

I couldn't agree more.

The impression one gets from the EPA is that the ideologues in the Obama administration view families from coal country as a mere speed bump on their way to some coal-free fantasyland. Apparently, the Obama administration's professed concern about struggling families does not apply to "fly-over territory," and certainly not to those in Appalachia. That is precisely why I held the listening session in Pikeville--to ensure that we in the Commonwealth have a voice in decisions that profoundly affect our lives.

And that is why I delivered the concerns of my constituents directly to the EPA this week. The main message conveyed to the EPA was that the people of Kentucky will not be silenced. We demand to be heard. We also say loud and clear: the War of Coal is not over, 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 we will keep fighting.

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