Rand Paul tells magazine: Coal industry can police itself

U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul.
U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul. Jonathan Palmer/Lexington Herald Leader/MCT

FRANKFORT — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul is coming under attack from union coal miners and a prominent mine safety expert for questioning the federal regulation of mining in a national magazine.

The comments attributed to Paul in Details, a monthly magazine published by Conde Nast Publications, reportedly came from a public appearance Paul made at the Harlan Center in Harlan County before the May 18 GOP primary election.

"Is there a certain amount of accidents and unfortunate things that do happen, no matter what the regulations are?" Paul said in response to a question about a West Virginia mine explosion in April that killed 29 workers.

"The bottom line is I'm not an expert, so don't give me the power in Washington to be making rules. You live here, and you have to work in the mines.

"You'd try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don't, I'm thinking that no one will apply for those jobs."

Paul's campaign blasted the Details profile and follow-up stories about the profile that appeared on Web sites operated by The Washington Post and The Hill.

Members of the United Mine Workers from Kentucky have scheduled a news conference via phone Tuesday to take Paul to task for the remarks.

Tony Oppegard, a Lexington attorney who is a mine-safety advocate, called Paul's statement "idiotic."

He said it shows a lack of understanding of Eastern Kentucky, the region's economy and of the history of underground coal mining in the region, where for generations coal operators strongly opposed efforts by workers to form unions. In Harlan County, deadly battles over union organizing helped earned the county the nickname "Bloody Harlan."

Working conditions in underground mines are dangerous enough with federal and state rules, Oppegard said. If the industry were unregulated by government, "there would be a bloodbath," he said.

Paul is misinformed when he says no one would take jobs in mines that weren't safe, Oppegard said. Miners would take jobs even in unsafe mines because they need work, he said.

"There's no other job opportunities," Oppegard said.

He also said U.S. senators work on all kinds of legislation on which they are not experts. "What does he think senators do?"

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