Lawmakers push back against EPA enforcement of Clean Water Act, advance bills protecting mountaintop removal
Just days after a group of activists ended a four-day occupation of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear's office to protest the state's support of mountaintop removal mining, two bills advanced in legislative committees on Thursday that would make it easier for coal companies to continue the controversial practice. One of the bills advancing would declare Kentucky “a sanctuary state” from the EPA’s “regulatory actions against coal-producing counties.”
Introduced by chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, Brandon Smith (R), Joint Resolution 99 passed by a vote of 9-0 Thursday and could be considered by the full senate as early as Friday.
Smith said he got the idea for the resolution after hearing about "sanctuary cities" that declare themselves exempt from federal immigration law.
"We're doing it to raise awareness of the fact that the federal government is overreaching into parts of our economy and it's having a negative impact on Kentucky," Smith said.
Also on Thursday, the Kentucky House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment unanimously approved a bill that seeks to exempt coal mines that sell coal for use in Kentucky from the federal Clean Water Act. That bill, as well as the "sanctuary state" bill, were both introduced as a reaction to stepped-up enforcement of Clean Water Act regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration.
But opponents of the two measures note that the EPA is merely enforcing regulations already on the books and that the only reason the Obama administration appears to be clamping down on mountaintop removal mining is that under the Bush administration regulations governing went under-enforced.
"One of the deepest, most urgent instructions that we receive from our cultural tradition is the imperative to be a good neighbor, and this is ignored as an official policy by the coal companies—and therefore, by their government allies," said the well-known writer, farmer and cultural critic, Wendell Berry, one of the thirteen people who occupied the governor's office over the weekend.
But Berry remains cautiously optimistic about the future of the pro-mountain, anti-coal movement in Kentucky, saying in a recent interview, "It takes a long time to make these changes, sometimes, and we have to be prepared to keep it up for a long time."
Photos of Berry and the other activists during their protest (courtesy of Kentucky Kernel):