GOP primary candidates in governor’s race agree on blame for decline in coal industry, disagree on approach to fixing it

08/25/2014 02:31 PM

The Republican candidates in the 2015 governor’s race agree on the idea that the coal industry is in decline in large part to the regulations put in place by President Barack Obama. But while one candidate is looking at other ways to help the region beyond coal, the other says it is time to take some of the harmful federal regulations to court.

After recent comments from state Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, about the state needing to “get coal out of the way”, many were comparing the remarks to some made by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer last year to WFPL where he said state leaders “have to look beyond” coal in order to find solutions for the region’s economy.

Comer told Pure Politics there is no comparison to be made between his remarks and those of Rep. Burch. But Comer did say no one can deny that eastern Kentucky has suffered a major blow to the region’s economy which he said is a direct result of the Obama administration’s policies.

“I am going to do everything as governor I can to support coal. But I am also going to focus on diversifying the economy in eastern Kentucky and that is what my comments were about, how can we replace the 30,000 coal jobs that have been lost over the last 30 years in eastern Kentucky,” Comer said.

Comer discussed some of the initiatives the Department of Agriculture has put in place to try to help diversify the economy in the region. Comer said he would focus on more ideas to re-build the area but said he will also continue to fight for coal.

“Coal is what keeps the lights on here in this state. One reason we have so many manufacturing jobs in this state is we have very low utility rates,” Comer said. “If we comply with President Obama’s excessive, unfair regulations with respect to energy, we risk losing many manufacturing jobs in this state in addition to every consumer in the state facing a 20 percent increase in their electric bill and that’s unacceptable.”

Similarly, in an interview with Pure Politics Republican candidate Hal Heiner said as the rest of the world turns to coal as a low-cost reliable energy source, Kentucky needs to do whatever it can to hold on to coal-fired power plants to maintain a competitive advantage.

“The demand will be there for coal. What we are faced with here in Kentucky is an administration in Washington, D.C. that is requiring five years to get a coal permit, to expand underground with no new surface openings, that type of use of regulatory process to try to shut down coal,” Heiner said. “So what we need is a governor who is going to push back, that’s going to join with other like-minded governors on states’ rights issues and slow these gears down until we can get a new administration.”

Heiner said there has been a lot of “pleasant talk” from the administration of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, but Heiner said he believes the EPA regulations need to be fought in court.


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