After nearly a year and a half since a federal judge ruled the Environmental Protection Agency’s “enhanced coordination process” for denying mining permits to Kentucky’s energy sector was illegal, a Kentucky representative is now grilling the U.S. Corps of Engineers on why gridlock continues in issuing new permits.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-KY, went on the offensive last week during an Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with the Corps:
“In particular, I expect some explanation for why the Corps continues to drag its feet in issuing mining permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. This continued deadlock is shuttering mines and adding thousands to unemployment lines in Kentucky and throughout Appalachia.”
In fact, coal companies have laid off more than 2,100 miners in Eastern Kentucky alone since January 2012 according to the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, due in no small part to this sort of gridlock in issuing mining permits. Kentucky coal communities now rank among the worst in unemployment with rates above 14%, well over the overall state rate of 8.1%
Unemployment isn’t the only problem resulting from the blockage of new mining permits. Thanks to this mysterious gridlock, coal severance taxes are also down, resulting in million-dollar budget deficits for coal county governments. What’s worse, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that while coal demand is set to rise almost everywhere across the globe, coal production in eastern Kentucky coalfields will be half as much in 2018 as compared to 2010. Again, denying mining permits is not alleviating the issue.
With eastern Kentucky only set to face even more job loss in the coming years, one has to wonder what the real reason is for the U.S. Corps of Engineers denying mining permits – despite the court ruling revoking the same kind of behavior from the EPA.