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‘Friends of Coal’ plates popular here, elsewhere

Letcher County Clerk Winston Meade displayed a “Friends of Coal” specialty license plate in his office in the Letcher County Courthouse on Tuesday. (Photo by Sally Barto)

Letcher County Clerk Winston Meade displayed a “Friends of Coal” specialty license plate in his office in the Letcher County Courthouse on Tuesday. (Photo by Sally Barto)

Letcher County motorists have been doing their part to make the “Friends of Coal” license plates the most popular specialty plate in Kentucky except for collegiate plates honoring the state’s universities.

The state has issued 50,000 of the “Friends Of Coal” plates in the past two and a half years. Of that number, 877 were sold to vehicle owners in Letcher County in 2011, said Letcher County Clerk Winston Meade. An additional 196 “Friends of Coal” plates were sold in the county between January 1 and March 20 of this year. Figures were not immediately available for the number of plates sold in 2010.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear paid homage to the coal industry last week by marking a milestone in sales of special plates.

“Coal mining, as I’ve said many times before, is one of the cornerstones of Kentucky’s economy,” Beshear said during a Capitol press conference held March 14. “More than 19,000 people work directly at our mine sites with several times more than that number holding jobs indirectly related to the industry.”

Beshear has been one of the coal industry’s biggest cheerleaders, criticizing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for not approving new permits for mines in Kentucky.

The second-term Democrat touted Kentucky’s coal industry for helping keep electric rates low, which, he said, helps the state to attract manufacturing plants.

“There’s no doubt that Kentucky coal keeps this state’s economy strong and also keeps this nation’s economy running,” he said.

Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett praised Beshear and a group of more than 12 coalfield lawmakers who attended the press conference for supporting the coal industry.

Bissett said the industry has been pleased that so many people have shown support for the coal industry by choosing the black, specialty license plates.

“ I think people do it for a number of reasons,” Bissett said. “Some do it because we work in coal. Some do it because they have family members who work in the coal industry. Some do it, I think, because they’re from the coalfields or previously from the coalfields and have that cultural connection to coal.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said coalfield residents appreciate the mining industry for creating flat land that can be used for residential, industrial and recreational development.

In a rebuff to mountaintop mining critics, Stumbo said he lives on one such development that, besides houses, also has a golf course, riding stables, even a recreational ball park.

“To the people who say let’s save mountains: Go buy one,” Stumbo said. “There’s a bunch of them for sale. And if you own it, and you don’t want it mined, guess what, it’s not going to be mined that way.”

The “Friends of Coal” plates are also popular with motorcycle owners in Letcher County. Meade said 27 of 129 motorcycle plates bought from his office in 2011 were the coal specialty plates. Ten of 46 motorcycle plates bought so far in 2012 also bear the “Friends of Coal” label.

Compiled from Mountain Eagle, Associated Press reports.

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