By State Representative Tim Couch
AT ISSUE: Story by Associated Press in April 29, 2015 edition of Lexington Herald-Leader, “Appalachian Voices releases mountaintop mining mapping tool”
FRANKFORT, Ky. (April 30, 2015) – It was with much interest that I recently saw a story about an anti-coal group releasing information about how surface mining is allegedly putting some communities at risk. As someone who has called the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky home my entire life, a coal miner for 17 years, and as a small business owner, I would argue the Obama Administration and his unelected allies in the EPA are the real threat to our communities.
According to data compiled by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, nearly 2,500 coal jobs have been lost between 2012 and the end of 2014. That came on the heels of more than 4,000 coal jobs being eliminated between 2011 and 2012, all because of growing regulations due to the President’s efforts to destroy our coal industry. Just this week the Cabinet announced another 1,200 coal jobs have been lost in the first three months of this year, and coal production is the lowest it has been in more than 50 years. That means a direct loss of 7,700 coal jobs since 2011, not to mention the jobs lost in industries that support coal.
In my district along, the number of coal jobs has been cut in half in Leslie County. There were 605 people employed at the end of 2012. By the end of last year, there were only 307 workers from Leslie County employed in the coal industry. According to information given to me by the Department of Local Government, more than $9 million in coal severance taxes have been lost to counties and communities who depend on them.
Counties bordering my district have been hit even worst during that time. In the past two years almost 500 coal jobs have been lost in Harlan County, and Perry County has seen a cut of roughly 450 jobs between 2012 and 2014.
The loss of these jobs is a direct result of the increased tightening of regulations by those faceless bureaucrats in the EPA’s Washington and Atlanta offices as the behest of the Oval Office, many of whom probably have never been to Eastern Kentucky. These same people have also worked to suppress the natural gas industry both in Kentucky and nationally by preventing its export to other countries. Fewer jobs means more people out of work, or having to take a job with dramatically less pay than they made working in the coal mines, forcing many of them to leave the region and the commonwealth looking for work. That unemployment and underemployment means businesses like mine suffer, and it’s also starting to impact our local counties and cities because of the loss to the tax base. This week alone the Leslie County Fiscal Court made the difficult decision to lay workers off because of a drop in revenue from coal severance funds.
So the next time someone wants to write about the real risk to Eastern Kentucky, perhaps they should take a look at the devastation caused in the region by the Obama Administration and his environmental allies. That is the true menace to our region and way of life.
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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.