PIKE COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT) - In a region that has long relied on the coal industry to survive some believe the so-called war on coal is threatening our way of life.
Thousands of miners have been laid off in Eastern Kentucky in the past few years, more than five hundred just last week.
Pike County Judge Executive Wayne T. Rutherford says he is tired of seeing the people of his county out of work and out of options.
"Our coal miners are our heroes. They've kept the lights on in America, but we're in trouble here in Central Appalachia," he said.
He sent a letter to Congressman Hal Rogers asking for his help to obtain money from Abandoned Mine Land (AML) trust funds citing nearly $2.5 billion that he believes belongs here in the mountains.
"That money needs to be spent on infrastructure based upon the coal production in Central Appalachia," said Judge Rutherford.
Judge Rutherford says the goal is to bring money back to the areas that supplied these AML funds through coal production and hopefully revive their economies after the so-called war on coal.
Congressman Rogers responded Tuesday saying he respects Rutherford's idea, but he says that money is paid by coal mines throughout the country and is designated for projects that address hazards associated with abandoned mine sites.
But Rutherford believes it is time to change that.
"Give us a plan and give us our money. We'll take care of ourselves. We have the intelligence and we have the passion and commitment to give our people's tomorrow to them so they'll be secure," he said.
Here is the entire statement given to WYMT by Congressman Hal Rogers:
"The people of Pike County and our surrounding coal counties continue to suffer the devastating results of President Obama's War on Coal. Over the last several months, I have slashed the EPA's budget and supported pro-coal legislation to bring this War on Coal to a halt. As leaders, we have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in this fight to protect our way of life. I am meeting weekly with leaders in Kentucky and across the country to address our dire need for more jobs and opportunity.
“I appreciate Judge Executive Rutherford's ideas and interest in the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Reclamation Fund. The AML trust fund was established more than 30 years ago to address hazards associated with abandoned mine sites, like landslides, sink holes, water-filled pits, open mine portals and old mining equipment. We've dealt with these health and development risks for years, and this fund has been essential in restoring our region to its natural beauty.
“In fact, this year Kentucky will receive $42 million to address AML sites presently identified in the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, that’s only 10 percent of the $460 million in unfunded priority sites in Kentucky. We have work to do. In the meantime, our coal companies nationwide are dutifully paying into this fund to be used specifically to address these blighted, hazardous conditions. We all agree that we need to come up with creative solutions to address our skyrocketing unemployment rates largely created by the President's costly permit moratorium and climate agenda, however, these reclamation projects are essential to restoring our communities and bringing safety to homeowners and businesses. Additionally, and of particular concern, spending down the AML principal balance threatens the interest transferred to address orphaned coal miner retiree healthcare."
--U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers (KY-05)
You can also see the entire statement from Congressman Rogers and Judge Rutherford's letter below.