Wherever I go in Kentucky, I see President Obama’s policies have raised energy rates, decreased domestic energy production, and cost jobs. A barrage of regulations from the EPA is strangling one of our state’s most important industries — the coal industry — and Kentucky miners and the thousands whose jobs rely on mining are feeling it.
After more than four years, it is clear this administration has declared a war on coal. Kentucky’s coal industry employs over 14,000 people directly. For every miner employed, three more Kentuckians hold jobs indirectly dependent on coal. But in 2012, total coal production in Kentucky declined by over 16 percent, and direct employment from coal fell by over 22 percent. Eastern Kentucky has suffered the most. Coal production in the region is down by nearly 28 percent, the lowest level since Lyndon Johnson was president. As a result, 4,000 miners in eastern Kentucky have lost their jobs — a drop of nearly 30 percent.
I think it’s clear what this administration’s true goal is. It’s not to see the coal industry actually comply with so many unreasonable regulations and red tape. It’s to see the coal industry driven out of business altogether. This EPA has turned the coal permitting process into an illegitimate, back-door means to shut down coal mines permanently by sitting on permits indefinitely and removing any certainty from the regulatory process. Playing this game of “run out the clock” has put many Kentucky mining operations into limbo and cost Kentucky thousands of jobs and over $123 million in coal severance money. The EPA is changing the rules in the middle of the game. And they’ve done it all without a single vote in Congress. Their actions are outside the scope of its authority, outside the scope of the law, and represent a fundamental departure from the permitting process as originally envisioned by Congress. So if this administration won’t rein the EPA in, Congress will.
That’s why I recently introduced in the U.S. Senate the Coal Jobs Protection Act. Cosponsored with my good friend Senator Rand Paul, it will be our best weapon of defense to protect the thousands of jobs targeted by this administration and its war on coal. The Coal Jobs Protection Act would end this abuse of the process by the EPA by requiring them to approve or veto 402 permit applications within 270 days of application. If the EPA doesn’t act by that time, the permit would be automatically approved.
The Coal Jobs Protection Act would give the EPA 90 days after they receive a 404 permit application to begin the approval process for that application. It also gives the president a year to conduct an environmental assessment. Failure to act within that time frame for approval of a 404 permit would mean the application is approved, the permit is issued, and the permit can never be subject to judicial review. Despite a recent federal appeals court decision, EPA should not have the authority to retroactively deny permits that have already been approved. The Coal Jobs Protection Act is even more essential in light of that destructive ruling.
The Coal Jobs Protection Act would also implement much-needed reform to help farmers, home builders, realtors, transportation-industry workers, municipalities, and manufacturers who are already at risk from the EPA’s wish to impose a back-door national energy tax by regulating carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants under the Clean Air Act. Such a move would hurt our economy and endanger millions of jobs across the country.
A broad coalition of job-creating industries throughout Kentucky are standing with me to support this legislation, including the National Mining Association, the Kentucky Coal Association, the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation, the Kentucky Corn Growers Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Kentucky Home Builders Association, and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, plus local chambers stretching from Pikeville to Paducah.
I visited with many miners and Kentuckians whose jobs depend on the energy sector in eastern Kentucky, including stops in Pikeville and Hazard, to speak with Kentuckians about this bill and let them know I’m on their side in this fight against the administration. For years, people across the Commonwealth have told me of the damage done by this administration’s policies.
Under this president, unemployment is still high and economic growth is still shaky. The last thing we need is the EPA’s endless maze of rules and regulations hampering job creation even further. I would have hoped this administration could see that on its own. But since they can’t, it will be up to Kentucky to show them.