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The Associated Press April 26, 2011, 3:24PM ET

GOP hopefuls OK with mountaintop removal mining

Companies that unearth coal using a divisive mining procedure known as mountaintop removal have nothing to fear from Kentucky's three Republican gubernatorial candidates.

Louisville businessman Phil Moffett, state Senate President David Williams and Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw have proven supportive of the mining method that involves blasting away Appalachian mountaintops to get to the coal.

Moffett referred to the procedure as "mountaintop development" in response to a questionnaire from The Associated Press, suggesting that it creates flat land that can be used for commercial purposes. Williams promised to stand up to federal environmental regulators whom he accused of trying to shut down mining in Kentucky. And Holsclaw said she would appoint a commission to look at the future of coal.

Being pro-coal is a must in heavily Republican southeastern Kentucky, home to many of the state's 18,000 coal miners and a key battleground heading into the May 17 primary election.

Mountaintop removal, which involves blasting away Appalachian peaks to unearth coal, has been under fire from environmentalists, some of whom have gone to court to try to stop it while others have worked through state legislatures to try to ban it.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders have been steadfast proponents, criticizing federal regulatory agencies for actions that they say have kept some coal companies from opening new mines or expanding existing ones.

"Mountaintop development is vital to Kentucky's economy," Moffett said. "Local regulation of environmental concerns should be sufficient to handle most if not all environmental issues," Moffett said.

Williams said he and his running mate, Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, will fight to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from instituting policies harmful to Kentucky's mining industry.

"We believe coal mining, under present laws and regulations, can be done in an environmentally responsible way," Williams said in response to the AP questionnaire. "But the Obama Administration is using unelected bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency to shut down coal mining operations in Kentucky, and we think our state needs a governor who will stand up and fight them every step of the way."

Holsclaw called for Kentucky leaders to work together to help the coal industry.

"I believe mountaintop mining can be done safely without damage to our streams, but it is not always done that way," she said. "I want to establish a blue ribbon commission on the future of coal. The commission can move forward in a bipartisan fashion to suggest what regulations if any more are warranted and what areas should we oppose federal regulations. Right now, I don't think state government has enough good answers or ideas for this vital industry."

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