Federal Money Should Go Toward Growing Region’s Economy, Not Planting Trees

OP-ED

By State Representative Tim Couch

AT ISSUE: Story by Bill Estep, "Obama proposes $1 billion lifeline for parts of Appalachia where coal jobs vanished" Lexington Herald-Leader, Wednesday, February 2, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. – President Ronald Reagan once said the most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

His remarks quickly came to my mind as I recently heard about the announcement that President Obama is proposing to release nearly $1 billion in funds with the intent to assist economically depressed coal communities.

As a state legislator that represents the heart of coal country, you would think I would be pleased to hear of that announcement.  After all, I see every day the negative effects the dwindling coal industry has not only on the unemployed miners, but their families, the peripheral businesses, and local governments.  As the owner of a small grocery, I see far too often the difficult and real purchasing decisions our neighbors have to make, as they have fallen victim to our region’s signature industry systematically coming under attack.  So, one would think that I and my legislative colleagues would be celebrating this proposal by President Obama.

However, I find it a bit disingenuous that a President who has long been on the record of working against the coal industry would now be making a proposal that, on face value, would be of benefit to our region.  After all, this is the same man who, in 2008, said he would want to bankrupt any company who wanted to open a coal-fired power plant.  Contrary to what the Washington, D.C. pundits might claim, the “War on Coal” is very much real and the Obama Administration and the EPA have done their part to perpetually promulgate it over the course of the past seven years!

One of the examples given to tout this proposal was people could be hired to plant trees on old surface mining sites.  Replacing $60,000 a year jobs with $20,000 temporary tree planting jobs does not lead to economic prosperity.

If the Obama Administration really wants to do something to assist the people of Eastern Kentucky, maybe they should stop sending foreign aid to countries which despise our American freedoms and find places those funds could better help us here at home.  To that end, let me offer some suggestions.

First, end the unhealthy obsession with destroying the coal industry.  Next, help us combat the overwhelming scourge of illegal and prescription drug abuse.  And, lastly find ways to invest these and other funds into projects that will make our region more attractive to employers in the current economy.

Let the federal government spend one-third of the $12 billion the President and Congress are sending to Iran, a nation state that wants the United States and Israel destroyed, and reappropriate that money to start from I-75 in Laurel County and build a four-lane highway through Clay, Leslie and into Perry County.  This expansion would, with the exception of 10 miles between London and Somerset, complete a four-lane highway from Prestonsburg to Bowling Green, creating a route to connect Eastern Kentucky with I-75, which would greatly assist in the attraction of new industry.  For every job created, there is one less person having to rely upon government assistance, which then frees up more funds to invest further.

These are the ways that we can make Eastern Kentucky, and all other areas harmed from the decline of the coal industry, prosper once again!

Representative Tim Couch (R-Hyden) serves the 90th House District, comprised of Clay and Leslie counties.  He is a small business owner and Vice-Chair of the Natural Resources & Environment committee.

 

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