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What happens in coal country should stay in coal country

“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is meant to comfort those who commit big sins at Sin City’s gambling venues.

But I have a better one that’s more positive to Kentuckians: “What happens in Kentucky coal country stays in Kentucky coal country.”

Most already know that there are a lot of miners – and lots of jobs – that depend on the plentiful supply of black rock found within the commonwealth’s borders. But largely unknown – or unrealized – is how much of the coal mined here stays right here in our own state.

Nearly one-third of all coal extracted from our home turf never leaves Kentucky. That’s not just some chest-thumping trivia fact; it’s the lifeblood of the Bluegrass State’s economy.

Kentucky’s most valuable natural resource not only yields some of the nation’s cheapest energy rates, it also helps overcome the commonwealth’s business-unfriendly practices to attract a wide array of industries, including steel, aluminum and automotive operations.

Still, out-of-touch regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency have been hedging their bets against the benefits of Kentucky coal. The EPA’s unilateral rejections of new mining permits and ensuing shutdown of dozens of mines - accompanied by a multitude of layoffs - are designed to deal the Appalachian coal-mining industry a losing hand.

Unfortunately, when Kentucky mines are shut down and permits for local operations are denied, the impact of that, too, is felt largely here in Kentucky.

That’s why it’s time to take a constitutional stand by forcing the EPA to abide by those pesky clauses in the Ninth and 10th amendments that reserve to the states and their people all rights not specifically granted to the federal government elsewhere in the Constitution.

The small-minded, power-hungry regulators at the EPA try to justify their attacks on our energy and industry by playing fast and loose with the infamous Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution. They claim that coal mined, sold and used completely within the borders of the commonwealth still affects interstate commerce, because, um – well, what was the excuse last time? Oh right, because a mine’s discharge could potentially have adverse effects on local wildlife.

That requires a stretch as far as Las Vegas is from Lexington.

How is it that bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. are better able to judge the costs and benefits to Kentucky families of a new energy plant than those local citizens directly affected by such endeavors? This is all especially baffling considering that only recently the EPA itself awarded the Kentucky state government its 2012 Energy Star Partner Award for Gov. Steve Beshear’s efforts to promote renewable energy sources.

Which is it?

Are we in Kentucky true “energy star partners” – competent enough to decide the costs and benefits of new energy plants – or does the Bluegrass State need the EPA’s encroaching fist to choke the economic vitality out of our most prized natural resource in the name of extreme environmentalism?

The EPA’s audacity is almost too much.

What Kentucky needs – and what I hope is coming – is legislation that champions local government, states’ power, and yes, the Constitution. What’s needed is a policy that boldly declares that any coal mined, sold and used exclusively within the commonwealth’s borders remains out of the EPA’s reach.

Instead, the coal would be regulated under the watchful eye of the state’s Department for Energy Development and Independence. This would allow voters to hold the state’s politicians responsible for implementing and enforcing reasonable environmental policies instead of unelected bureaucrats in Washington.

It would also grow the number of mining jobs - jobs that indirectly result in the creation of three additional industry positions. These jobs would be created in Kentucky – and guess where they’d stay?

Contributor Bio: Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at [email protected]. Read previously published columns at

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