Rep. Combs says EPA was receptive to plea to 'lighten up' on coal and help Eastern Ky. diversify

03/28/2013 07:36 PM

After meeting with a top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official last week, state Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, said she’s hopeful the agency will meet Eastern Kentucky half way by not shutting out the coal industry and by helping the region diversify.

Combs and Len Peters, the Kentucky secretary of the Energy and Environment Cabinet, met on March 20 with Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming, the regional administrator for the EPA’s Southeast Region in Atlanta.

“She was very open and I thought very receptive to a lot of the things we were suggesting,” Combs said. (5:50 of the interview below.)

The EPA and Kentucky officials haven’t had a good relationship over the last few years as the agency has cracked down on its mine permitting. Environmentalists have said the agency is merely doing its job by protecting waterways from potential pollution. But coal supporters protested that the EPA was unfairly strangling a vital industry. Gov. Steve Beshear’s most remembered line from his 2011 State of the Commonwealth Address was to tell the EPA to “get off our backs.”

Combs said that wasn’t the tone, nor the only message she brought to the meeting with Fleming.

“My intent was obviously (to address) the immediate situation of ‘Could you lighten up?’ — because it has really taken a toll on the economy and the job market,” she said (6:00) adding that the region needs coal “until we can find something else.”

That, she said, was her second point: that the region could be a place to try other energy sources like nuclear.

Combs told Pure Politics last month that coal remains a vital industry in the poorest region of the state but that it likely won’t rebound to where it once was because of economic forces.

In the first half of the interview, Combs answers questions about the current state of coal mining and its effects on water quality, while the second half of the interview focuses on the results of her meeting and what comes next:


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