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Mining Permits at Middle of Regulatory Tug of War

PHOTO: A Kentucky Senator attempts to fast-track coal mining permits through congressional legislation. Environmentalists say that is a bad idea.
PHOTO: A Kentucky Senator attempts to fast-track coal mining permits through congressional legislation. Environmentalists say that is a bad idea.
May 2, 2013

PIKEVILLE, Ky. - Kentucky's top Republican politician wants to force the Environmental Protection Agency to start acting on coal-mining permits or they would be approved automatically.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is trying to fast-track permits, claiming the federal agency's inaction is costing the state thousands of coal-mining jobs. However, Ada Smith, who lives in Whitesburg, said the focus should be more about overall job diversification in the region.

"I think that most people understand that coal isn't going to be the No. 1 source of employment," she said. "It hasn't been for a really long time."

McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said the EPA is "sitting on permits" in a "back-door" attempt to "shut down coal mines permanently." In his words, "if this administration won't rein the EPA in, Congress will. Congress must."

McConnell made the legislative threat during stops earlier this week in Pikeville and Hazard. Smith said she's glad McConnell came to southeast Kentucky but is disappointed in his approach to the region's main problem - a scarcity of jobs.

"I'd like him to come here with some solutions and some ideas about where we can head in the future instead of this kind of pointin' fingers, name callin' and like, back and forth about who's at fault here," she said.

McConnell's legislative proposal, known as the Coal Jobs Protection Act, has the backing of the Kentucky Coal Association and a variety of business groups.

Sue Tallichet, a member of the grassroots citizens group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, called McConnell's legislation "a bailout for coal."

"McConnell's bill is very deceiving in that it's even called the Coal Job Protection Act," she said. "They're not protecting jobs and miners. They're protecting profits."

McConnell plans to introduce his bill in the Senate next week.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY