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Coalfield residents worry about new regulations

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 2, 2014 at 5:07 pm •  Published: June 2, 2014

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (AP) — The announcement of of stricter federal emissions standards on coal-fired power plants was met with groans Monday from many Kentuckians in coal country, worried about keeping their jobs and their way of life.

The Obama administration's new rules seek significant reductions in the greenhouse gases that can contribute to climate change. In Kentucky, where about 90 percent of the electricity generated comes from coal, the rules call for a reduction of about an 18 percent in carbon emissions by 2030. Nationwide, the goal is a 30 percent reduction.

In the eastern Kentucky coalfields, residents and workers who depend on the industry say they fear the new rules will put more pressure on the region's struggling mining industry.

"Why keep chopping the legs out of your own economy to try to fight a world problem? You are going to destroy your country trying to set an example," Gary Whitt said while eating lunch at Giovanni's in downtown Prestonsburg.

The 29-year-old railroad worker said his job depends on transporting coal. He said at least 50 of his co-workers have been laid off, and he's worried he could be next.

Thirty-one-year-old Johnny Spears was a heavy equipment operator for Kentucky Fuels for 10 years when he lost his job last year. He's now working as a county animal control officer but with a much smaller salary.

"It's killing the economy in our area," he said. "There's no money circulating. Businesses are hurt. Everybody's out of work."

A sign in Prestonburg invites travelers to "take a step back in time," but many there wish they really could turn back the clock.

Twenty years ago, more than 150 coal mines were active in Floyd County. Now there are fewer than five, according to R.D. "Doc" Marshall, the county judge-executive.

However, environmental activists say coal is past its prime as an economic driver in the state.

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