Kentucky lawmaker wants state to be 'sanctuary' for coal industry

The Lexington Herald-LeaderFebruary 17, 2011 

RANKFORT — Kentucky should be a "sanctuary state" for the coal industry, free from "the overreaching regulatory power" of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a measure expected to get a state Senate committee vote Thursday.

Senate Natural Resources and Energy Chairman Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said he got the idea for Senate Joint Resolution 99 after hearing about "sanctuary cities" declaring themselves exempt from federal immigration law.

If cities can ignore federal law to protect illegal immigrants, Smith said Wednesday, then why can't Kentucky do it for coal companies?

Smith's resolution would give state agencies jurisdiction over mining-related environmental standards and require state agencies to "respect the rights of Kentucky coal operators." The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet would be instructed to issue coal-mining permits that the EPA has denied because of concerns over water pollution.

Smith and his wife were managers at Perry Oil Co. in Hazard in 2008, around the time the company entered a consent agreement with the EPA. The EPA blamed the company for 7,000 gallons of oil poured into an unnamed tributary of Lick Creek in Laurel County. The company agreed to pay a $14,595 fine.

Smith said he since has left the company and was unaware of the consent agreement. That isn't what turned him against the EPA, the senator said. Rather, under President Barack Obama, the once-friendly EPA has become more adversarial, Smith said.

"Now they come down here, and they go out of their way to find things to write you up about," Smith said. "The EPA clearly is reacting to what it feels is the will of this president. They are going far above and beyond the call of duty."

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