Opponents Fear Bill Would Generate More Mountaintop Removal

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - As far as Carl Shoupe is concerned, Kentucky already has too many mountaintops destroyed by coal mining.

That's why the Harlan County man is so opposed to an energy bill that would provide hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives to companies that build high-tech plants in the state to make cleaner-burning alternative fuels from coal.

"The bottom line is if this goes into effect there's going to be a need for more coal," Shoupe said. "We cannot survive this mountaintop removal and contour mining. They are destroying our mountains. They are destroying our environment. They are destroying our streams. They are destroying our lives."

Shoupe was among a group of mountain residents and environmentalists who came to Frankfort on Tuesday to voice opposition to the energy bill that is steamrolling through the General Assembly. Legislative leaders contend the measure is critical to Kentucky's future because it would help coal, a mainstay of the state's economy, remain a viable source of fuel for decades to come.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher called a special legislative session, which began Monday, for the sole purpose of passing the energy plan. Lawmakers expect the measure to clear the House on Wednesday and the Senate on Friday.

The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee passed the measure on Tuesday in a 26-2 vote.

"It is a very important move that we need to make in Kentucky to be national leaders in this arena because of our dependence on coal," said House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, one of the chief architects of the bill. "There's no state that could be affected more than Kentucky. That's why it's so important that we push forward and be the leaders in expanded research and development."

Adkins said Kentucky needs to prepare for possible federal limits on emissions from coal-fired generating plants. The topic is getting increased discussion in Washington because of concerns about carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from coal that contribute to global warming.

Environmentalists at the state and national levels also have been aggressively pushing for renewable fuels - wind, solar and biomass - that wouldn't contribute to global warming. Kentucky's energy bill would provide incentives for development of renewable fuels projects.

The measure would provide tax breaks for St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, which is considering building a $3 billion coal gasification plant to Kentucky. Early estimates put the value of the proposed Peabody incentives at $300 million.

The measure also would provide financial incentives for any other qualifying companies that build alternative fuel facilities.

Under the legislation, actual incentives would be decided by the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority, not the General

The proposal would provide breaks on sales taxes, income taxes and coal severance taxes for alternative fuel plants.

Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said he believes the incentives will have a positive impact on the mining industry in the state, which produces $4.8 billion worth of coal per year.

That's important, Caylor said, because the coal industry employs about 15,000 miners who earn an average of $47,000 a year.

The energy bill also has the support of the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council. Larry Roberts, head of the organization, said the incentives have the potential to change the economic landscape of the state by generating high-paying construction jobs.

Justin Maxson, president of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, agreed that the energy bill has the potential to be one of the biggest economic development bills in the state's history. But he urged lawmakers not to pass the measure.

Maxson questioned whether the potential for short-term benefits in new jobs are worth the predicted long-term environmental problems that could be created. Maxson urged lawmakers to allow more time for study before passing the energy bill, which he called "terribly complex."

"Give this bill the light of day," he said.

Teri Blanton, a member of the environmental group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said she doesn't believe the proposed incentives are necessary to get companies to build coal gasification plants in one of the top coal-producing states in the nation.

"This bill is a travesty," she said, "and it does not deserve your vote or support."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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