Republican Rand Paul’s repeated calls for limited government during his U.S. Senate campaign were challenged Tuesday by coal miners who say he opposes federal regulation of mining safety.
Kentucky members of the United Mine Workers told reporters in a teleconference that they were alarmed by Paul’s suggestion in a magazine interview that elected officials in Washington shouldn’t be setting coal mining rules.
“Rand Paul and his deregulation — all he talks about is deregulation and the local authorities having total control over any regulation,” said Tim Miller, a UMW representative in Madisonville. “I think that takes us back at least 100 years, back to when 12-year-old kids could work in the coal mines.”
Paul’s campaign said in a statement that he doesn’t want to exclude the federal government but wants more state and local control over mine safety.
“Insinuating that Washington bureaucrats are the only solution to problems is insulting to Kentucky,” the statement said. “That does not exclude the federal government, but rather sets Dr. Paul’s belief in who can best handle this vital function.”
Coal mining is big business in Kentucky, where roughly 18,000 miners are at work, the majority in the eastern part of the state. The miner’s union has endorsed Paul’s opponent, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway.
magazine published Paul’s comments from a speech in Harlan County in its August issue. The comments were made before Paul won the May primary.
“The bottom line is I’m not an expert, so don’t give me the power in Washington to be making (mining) rules,” Paul said in response to a question about an explosion in April that killed 29 miners in West Virginia. “You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You’d try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don’t, I’m thinking that no one will apply for those jobs.”
Paul also said in a May interview with National Public Radio, “most manufacturing and mining should be under the purview of state authorities.”
The union members said federal regulations have come a long way in protecting miners in the workplace. They pointed specifically to rules that set ventilation and roof support standards in underground mines.
“I think we depend on federal legislation to keep us safe in the mines,” said Bernie Alvey, another union member. “I hate that it happens that we have these catastrophes in the coal mines, but they always bring on new laws that keep the rest of us safe later on.”
More than 3,200 miners were killed in 1907, the deadliest year on record for U.S. coal mining, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The agency says federal legislation since then has played a role in drastically decreasing coal mining fatalities, which reached an all-time low of 23 in 2005.
Paul has been a critic of government regulation of business throughout the campaign, and drew heavy criticism when he suggested the day after his primary win that the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s mandate that restaurants and other businesses admit black customers was an overreach of federal regulatory powers.
The Details article also reported that Paul, when asked why Harlan County was famous, didn’t mention the notoriously violent 1930s battles over coal mining conditions that have been the subject of books and movies. Paul guessed instead that it was “famous for, like, The Dukes of Hazzard” TV show.