DOES SOMETHING SMELL FUNKY?

Kentucky Leads U.S. in Toxic Power Pollution

Coal rules in Kentucky.

That is the headline I read and it blew me away.

The Natural Resources Defense Council found Kentucky is the worst state in the nation when it comes to toxic air pollution emanating from coal-fired power plants.

Several neighbors ranked high on the council’s  “Toxic 20,” including Ohio (2nd), Indiana (4th), West Virginia (5th) and Tennessee (11th).

While many states had reductions in power plant pollution between 2009 and 2010, and the nation as a whole saw a 19 percent decrease, Kentucky’s emissions grew by 11 percent.

The council noted that Kentucky’s power plants are poorly controlled, and that the state has failed to adopt any kind of laws or regulations that require substantial reductions in mercury or toxic pollution from the electrical production industry.

The Commonwealth moved from third to first between 2009 and 2010 on the council’s “Toxic 20” states list for power plant pollution as found in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory.

Conventional wisdom would lead sensible people to think Kentucky’s political leaders might be up in arms over such a ranking. All that health and welfare crap for our valued citizens and such who reside in the Bluegrass.

Don’t get your hopes up.

Remember this is home to Sen. Mitch McConnell, the poster child for Republican activism, who is of the opinion that the EPA is some voodoo agency that only hinders business and should be abolished.

Earlier this year McConnell tried to disallow new EPA rules aimed at limiting mercury and other toxic pollutants from power plant smokestacks.

In response to Kentucky’s top ranking in the “Toxic 20,” McConnell attacked the Obama administration, complaining about how rules threatened thousands of coal mining and aluminum industry jobs, and that we must rein in the Obama EPA and their continued assault on Kentucky jobs and families.

I hear ya Mitch. Everybody likes having a job, and that’s great in the short-term, but contracting some horrible disease and leaving families fatherless is not exactly an employment solution.

Kentucky is behind the curve or willfully disregards instituting safety and environmental standards because it slows work production and is costly to mining companies.

Continuing to pursue lax rules in coal mining is like ignoring evidence of the toxicity of smoking cigarettes. We don’t tell pregnant women to keep on smoking. It’s an unhealthy practice and we strive to increase awareness and prevent it from occurring.

Translation: McConnell doesn’t care if Kentucky’s husbands and sons die from toxic pollution. How many bodies does McConnell have on him from enforcing lack luster coal health standards, and frightening regulators with his insider-Washington power plays?

McConnell can try cloaking his true intentions under guises of jobs and families, but in reality it’s about money and power. It’s about keeping big coal flush on the backs of inconsequential miners who lack a voice and are considered expendable.

It’s shameful and the recipe for a long-term disaster. Kentuckians need to stop voting McConnell back into office.

Then there is Tea Party pretty-boy Rand Paul.

In responding to news stories about alarming increases in black lung disease among Appalachian coal miners, this wing nut blindly insisted that such an occupational safety hazard had all but been eradicated.

Although numerous independent scientific and public health studies all point towards an increasing problem, Paul disputed the need for regulations proposed to reduce the level of respirable coal mine dust.

He dismisses the evidence like the whack-a-doodle creationists who choose to disregard science and evolution because it’s inconvenient to their cause.

Sen. Paul’s cause is money, power and zealotry.

This isn’t just a Republican issue in Kentucky. Democratic Governor Steve Beshear is a solid coal advocate as well.

Last week Beshear saw a plan two years in the making come to fruition as Kentucky and West Virginia signed an agreement with India to export 9-million tons of coal a year for the next 25-years in return for $7 billion.

Everybody wants to do this deal, but no one is saying how it will play out in terms of safety for miners, or if we should be attempting such levels of extraction.

Approximately 40 percent of American power comes from coal. However, 93 percent of Kentucky’s electricity is coal-generated.

Coal has been kind to this state, but everyone knows the coal seams have decreased in size and depth.

This natural resource is running dry.

What remains is harder to reach and produces less, which jacks up the cost.

It also makes extracting it more dangerous.

Budget cuts have left state officials without the ability to enforce the Clean Water Act.

No doubt Kentucky, which is the third largest coal-producing state, faces a huge dilemma when coal is no longer viable. These mining towns are full of people not trained to do much else, certainly not compete in a global marketplace individually.

Whole towns will fade.

Where will these people go for jobs?

State officials are keenly aware of this situation, but have chosen to plunge their collective heads into the sand to avoid upsetting “Big Coal.”

Their version of a solution is to ignore predictions, maximize profits in the short-term and don’t be in office when the bottom falls out.

This is a strategy right out of the Bush/Cheney playbook.

I don’t blame the folks who take these jobs. It’s all they know. It’s all their families have ever known.

Coal provides a survivable income in a place that is otherwise barren.

The problem is miners do get sick and die. Accidents do occur.

Coal mining is dangerous work.

Allow me to explain a very basic scenario we see in Kentucky all the time.

There aren’t a lot of employment options in eastern Kentucky, so you see young people who think they are invincible turn to mining. It offers them money and independence. Then that little girlfriend or wife gets pregnant and suddenly mining isn’t just a temporary fix it’s a necessity. Doesn’t matter the health hazards associated with it – a man must provide.

Then the hours and years pile up; this leads to extensive wear-and-tear on the body, and eventually injury. In order to not miss shifts miners start abusing oxycodone-based drugs and other powerful prescription medications, along with methadone because they can still pass a drug test with these legal pain killers in their systems.

This leads to addiction.

No telling where this tragic tale leads next, but nowhere good and it happens a lot.

Going down in those mines day after day, enduring what these men must to provide power to America – I can’t imagine. They do what they have to do to get by.

The coal industry makes its profits on these miners’ broken backs. Coal companies have no interest in regulating themselves and consider wiping out entire families or towns a form of collateral damage.

They are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure coal and the profits keep flowing, because fossil fuel executives see no other horse to ride that will deliver this kind of income, and the politicians are along for the ride.

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