By JULIA ROBERTS GOAD
PIKEVILLE, Ky. - Among those attending a hearing presented by the Environmental Protection Agency, a small but dedicated minority faced vocal opposition, but are making their voices heard.
The hearing, held in Pikeville, was a chance for local citizens and officials to voice their opinions on the EPA’s delaying mine permit applications. The objections were raised due to water quality issues.
Jim Giattina, director of the Water Protection Division, USEPA Region 4, said there are 1,522 streams in Kentucky that are threatened or impaired by mining.
The EPA will take comment from the public about the permits until June 21.
Several elected officials at the local and state level spoke to the EPA, voicing thiei objections to what they called the EPA’s war on coal. Representatives from Sen Mitch McConnel and Sen. Rand Paul’s office read statements from them, as well as a representative from Rep. Hal Rogers, who cited “strangulating regulations on Appalachian coal.”
Almost every speaker voiced their outrage at the Obama administration and EPA head Lisa Jackson.
The majority of those attending were supporters of the coal industry, who repeatedly referred to environmental groups as “treehuggers” and voiced economic, environmental and cultural arguments supporting the coal industry.
The EPA held two sessions, at which coal supporters and a small group of environmentalists spoke. At the second session, Knott County Judge Executive Randy Thompson referred to comments made at earlier in the day at the first session.
“I heard these environmentalists say these hearing weren’t about jobs,” Thompson said. “And I say, the hell they ain’t!”
Thompson’s comment received a roar of approval from the crowd, many of whom were dressed in mining stripes and hard hats.
However, there were speakers from the group Appalachian Voices who said they felt Kentucky was not doing enough to regulate the mining industry.
“The EPA is not the ones holding up these permits,” Eric Chance, a speaker with Appalachian Voices said. “They are trying to bring Kentucky’s standards up to other states. Kentucky is not capable of writing regulations to do so. They are not able to regulate coal.”
Another speaker with the group, Pallavi Padapats, is a native of Hazard, and said the problem lies in enforcement.
“The laws and regulations are not being enforced,” she said. “It is indicative of the disregard of these permits.”
Both speakers’ comments were met with booing and calls of “go home treehugger.”
Appalachian Voices says data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) shows that Appalachian coal jobs are up 6 percent since objections to mountaintop removal permits began, despite a 15 percent drop in coal-fired electrical generation brought about by cheaper natural gas.
The environmental group says that while there are instances of individual mines that have been denied permits, a declining demand for coal and limited storage capacity has cause production cuts at mines, regardless of the permitting process.
Citing layoffs at several mines in Kentucky that resulted in the loss of over 900 jobs, Appalachian Voices said market conditions created the need for the layoffs.
At the EPA hearings in Pikeville,a man sat down behind Chance and Matt Wasson after Chance spoke. The man was a coal supporter, Wattson said he told them his paycheck was down 75 percent.
Appalachian voices said the reason companies laid off workers was market conditions, not a delay in the permitting process.
“There is much debate about whether making coal companies more accountable for their pollution amounts to a ‘war on coal’ or represents a common sense effort to protect air, water and public health from pollution,” information from Appalachian Voices said.