Whitesburg KY

Special session not needed

To the Editor:

Recently Ernie Fletcher called for a special legislative session to promote technology for converting coal to synthetic fuel. Initially Jody Richards and the Democratic leadership in the House showed a little backbone and rejected this politically motivated idea. But of course, that was far too much to expect. Within days a private meeting was arranged between representatives of Peabody Coal Company, Fletcher, Richards and Senate leader David Williams. The next day, to no one’s surprise, the special session, or should I say “special interest” session, was back on the agenda.

Momentarily putting aside the coal to liquid issue itself, this special legislative session should not occur for several reasons. To begin with, the democratic process was subverted by this private meeting with a coal industry that has a vested financial interest in promoting this technology. Neither the public nor the press were allowed access to this meeting, only coal industry representatives and the politicians they were attempting (successfully) to sway.

A special session would cost taxpayers $60,000 per day. That comes to $300,000 for one week! Is it a good use of our money to spend $60,000 a day to debate something that could be covered in the regular legislative session five months from now? I don’t think so, and I don’t believe many other Kentuckians would either.

As to the issue of coal to liquid itself, this should be opposed for many reasons. The coal industry is demanding that the public fund this project, to the tune of $300 million in subsidies over a 25-year period. Once again, that’s our money they’re wanting to spend. As if that’s not enough the industry wants a guaranteed market for their product by requiring the military to contract for this synthetic fuel. So the public is expected to foot the bill for this project but won’t be allowed to reap whatever benefits may result in the form of lower gas prices. Public funding and a contractually guaranteed market, regardless of the quality of the product. That sounds like a pretty sweet deal for coal companies, and maybe for certain politicians whose re-election campaigns receive generous donations from the industry.

The technology for converting coal to liquid uses an enormous amount of resources, especially water, to produce a relatively small amount of synthetic fuel. Sometimes referred to as “clean coal”, the conversion technology is highly questionable, and the process itself generates more toxins than the resulting fuel might eliminate. The concept of “clean coal” is a fabrication generated by an industry that can’t seem to operate in the revealing light of truth.

Inevitably, the politicians and the industry spokespeople will claim that they’re bringing jobs to Kentucky. Using that $300,000,000 of taxpayers’ money, Peabody’s proposal would create about 120 full-time jobs, most likely in western Kentucky. That amounts to $100,000 per job, per year for 25 years! Let me say again that that’s our tax dollars Peabody is proposing to spend. They have no intention of investing any of their annual profits ($600 million in 2006 alone) in this project! Even The Wall Street Journal, hardly a leftwing publication, has called the coal to liquid proposal “the biggest corporate welfare scheme in history.”

As far as creating jobs in the coalfields, mountaintop removal, now the preferred method of coal extraction, in fact eliminates most mining jobs. When a huge dragline, operated by one man, can do the work of as many as 300 miners how can this method of mining “create” jobs? Once again, the coal industry has fabricated the notion that they are providing most of the jobs in eastern Kentucky. In Letcher County coal mining jobs made up less than 18 percent of the total number of jobs in 2005, down from 35 percent in 1980. Meanwhile coal production has nearly doubled in that same time span. That means that about twice the amount of coal is being produced by half the number of workers. As mountaintop removal increases in scope, more and more coal will be produced by fewer and fewer miners. The notion that “what’s good for the coal industry is good for Kentucky” is simply not true. What’s good for the coal industry is good for the coal industry, or, more precisely, a handful of top coal industry executives, none of whom make their residence in the mountains being devastated to provide their outrageous salaries and their stockholders’ profit margins.

The coal industry has had a stranglehold on eastern Kentucky, indeed, on all of Kentucky, for over 100 years. Our elected officials are being pressured to throw away millions of taxpayers’ dollars in an ill-advised attempt to develop coal to liquid technology, rather than invest that money in truly renewable energy resources. To submit to this coercion would be to turn a blind eye as the coal industry tightens its grip around our throats. This must not be allowed to happen. The legislature must say no to this special session, and soundly reject the concept of converting coal to synthetic fuel.


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