The future of coal in Kentucky “is in dire straits,” according to U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. Paul’s comments came during a visit to Harlan on Tuesday as he addressed approximately 200 constituents at the Harlan Center.
Saying “the president’s war on coal has really hurt Kentucky and Kentucky jobs,” Paul added, “We’ve been trying our very best to stop new regulations that are shutting down the coal-fired plants and today we’re announcing a new initiative called Economic Freedom Zones.”
Paul said this new initiative is one way “of keeping money in Harlan and allow money actually earned here to remain here,” rather than having it sent to the federal government.
The proposal would lower personal and corporate incomes taxes to 5 percent and lower the payroll tax to 2 percent for employees and employers. It also would suspend the capital gains tax, in an attempt to spur greater investment in businesses and real estate.
“The answer is expanding existing businesses,” said Paul.
Addressing coal as a part of eastern Kentucky’s future, Paul said “the president’s agenda has to be stopped.”
“The president has two or three new regulations he is going to roll out in the next several months, and I think they’ll cripple or end coal in America,” said Paul. “The president has to be stopped and we have to oppose what he is doing. He has new green house regulations and new dust regulations that will probably make it impossible to mine or burn coal in Kentucky.
“The president said he would bankrupt coal and he’s doing everything in his power to hurt it. I don’t think he’s taking a very balanced approach. There are people, all of us, who are concerned about the water and the air, at the same time if you have a balanced approach you have to be concerned about jobs — and he hasn’t shown much concern for jobs in Kentucky.”
With only 113,000 jobs added to the U.S. economy last month, Paul was asked how he felt about extending unemployment benefits to help those out of work, particularly in eastern Kentucky. Paul responded by saying the way to “fix longtime unemployment is to create jobs.”
“Our proposal today will be to over a 10 year period leave approximately $60 million in Harlan,” said Paul. “We think that’s really what needs to happen in order to create jobs again.”
After Paul’s speech, Lone Mountain Processing coal miner Derek White, 23, said the coal industry has always been the backbone of Harlan County with so many other businesses relying on coal.
“I love Sen. Paul’s ideas on the Economic Freedom Zones, but whenever you look past all of that and what this county has been built on it all comes back to coal,” said White. “The federal government needs to release their strangle hold on the coal industry. That is how you are going to increase the economy and make it better here in Harlan County. When the coal market is up, Harlan County prospers and when the county prospers, more businesses will want to come here.”
When Paul was asked if his future plans included a run for the presidency in 2016, he said he had not decided at this time.
“We’re considering it and talking it over with the family,” said Paul. “We probably won’t decide until after the elections in 2014.”
Nola Sizemore may be reached at 606-573-4510,ext. 115, or on Twitter@Nola_hde