This article originally provided by The Courier-Journal

January 19, 2008

Big Coal objects to being called an "outlaw industry," but facts are facts.

Massey Energy is the biggest of the big in the Appalachian coalfields, and it just agreed to pay a $20 million federal fine -- the biggest civil penalty ever levied for violations of wastewater discharge permits. The company also will spend another $10 million to prevent more of the same in the future.

It's a big fine, but it represents only a fraction of the damage Massey has done.

Not an outlaw industry? The Environmental Protection Agency sued Massey for violating the Clean Water Act more than 4,500 times from 2000 through the end of 2006, sometimes at levels more than 10 times its permit limits.

Not an outlaw industry? The biggest coal producer in Appalachia also produced the worst-ever environmental incident in the Southeast United States.

Massey -- not God, as the company insisted -- was responsible for the October 2000 outrage in Martin County in which more than 300 million gallons of slurry and sludge broke into the bi-state Big Sandy watershed, fouling streams, polluting water supplies, killing wildlife and damaging property.

The industry objects not only to being characterized (in its view) unfairly but also to virtually every effort to deal with the problems Big Coal creates. It claims everything from enforcement of wastewater permits to constraints on mountaintop removal mining will shut down the coal economy. It resists vigorous efforts to protect the health and safety of underground miners, and in this it is abetted by the administration of George W. Bush.

The U.S. House, with Kentucky Reps. John Yarmuth and Ben Chandler helping lead the way, is moving to pass the S-MINER Act, which will do some of the things last year's federal mine safety legislation didn't. Of course, the President threatens a veto, and he is supported in this obstruction by Richard Stickler -- whom the White House insists on having as top federal mine safety officer under Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, despite pleas from Democrats in Congress and the United Mine Workers for someone they trust.

Republicans like Big Coal.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, who represents the state with the most coal mines, and Rep. Hal Rogers, who represents the Eastern Kentucky coalfields, were among the top 20 recipients of industry contributions in the past two campaign cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Republican Party took some $2 million from the mining industry in the 2006 cycle alone.

Sen. McConnell objects to any suggestion that there's something wrong with this kind of Big Money Politics.

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