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Poll: Most of Coal Country Not Fans of Mountaintop Removal

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 By Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY, Contact
August 26, 2011

BEREA, Ky. - The federal Environmental Protection Agency embarked on a listening tour in Eastern Kentucky recently to vet resident concerns about the impacts of coal mining, especially the practice of mountaintop removal.

The visit came days after the release of joint poll results from two survey firms - one popular with Democrats, the other with Republicans - found strong opposition, even across party lines, to mountaintop-removal mining in the heart of coal country.

Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Associates, says the sampling data also reveals that most coalfield residents stand behind environmental rules and don't fear they'll harm the economy.

"We have a solid plurality of voters in these states who believe that environmental protections are good for the economy, and a solid majority who believe they are good or have no impact."

Of the more than 1,300 registered voters surveyed in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee, three-quarters support fully enforcing and even increasing protections in the Clean Water Act from mountaintop-removal coal mining.

Many Kentucky policymakers have aligned with the coal industry in chiding the EPA for what they consider overreaching and potentially job-killing regulations.

Teri Blanton, who was among members of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth who toured the region with EPA officials last week, says there's more at stake than jobs.

"I'm really happy that a few people have a job, but you can't destroy an entire region for a few people's paychecks. And, you can't poison your neighbor so you can have a paycheck."

Blanton contends that most of the coal mining isn't benefiting Kentuckians.

"We mine 120 million tons of coal in Kentucky a year, and we only use 20 million tons of coal a year in the state of Kentucky. And, so, we're blowing up our homeland and shipping it other places."

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican who represents eastern Kentucky, reportedly blasted the EPA's "environmental justice" tour of his territory, claiming the agency ignored the economic development projects made possible by coal mining and had no dialogue with miners worried about the Obama administration's regulations on their livelihood.

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