Turner says bill would close mining loopholes

Published 2:00 pm Friday, August 16, 2019

Kentucky State Senator Johnnie Ray Turner brought a bill to light during a meeting at the Harlan County Courthouse on Thursday. The bill says mining companies are to pay a “performance bond” in order to receive a mining permit, something that Blackjewel failed to do. Turner told the audience “this all could have been avoided” had Blackjewel paid the bond.

“It came to light that there was a statute out there that would require a coal company to have a bond,” said Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley. “However, there has been no process in place for that. The law has been on the books since 1986 and we’ve called on our legislative leaders to act in a bipartisan fashion to get the law modified.”

Mosley added Turner has acted quickly to address the need for modification, including calling for the press conference to speak on the matter.

“Blackjewel violated the law by not posting a performance bond,” Turner said. “That bond would’ve been used to ensure payment of all the wages earned by hard working miners that are protesting on the railroad tracks today.

Turner said the bill should close any loopholes Blackjewel and any other mining company have been able to exploit. He added that although the bill can’t be acted on until Jan. 2020 when legislators are back in session, he has already pre-filed it.

“Simply put, this bill will make certain that current law will be enforced and will require the Energy and Environment Cabinet to work with the Labor Cabinet to ensure that all coal mining operations or mining companies applying for a permit must prove that the performance bond has been established,” Turner said.

Turner added if any retro-activity is happening in any coal company that has been open for five consecutive years or less, the company’s permit will be suspended/revoked until the bond is paid. The bill also ensures the workers will be able to recover attorney fees if they have to sue in order to collect their wages from the company, during which the performance bond will be disbursed evenly to employees due to the company’s failure to operate, which current law does not require.

“We’re going to make sure that they do what they’re supposed to do and provide a performance bond to make sure that these miners will be paid,” Turner said.

Angie Hatton, member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, said she has visited the miners protesting on the tracks to listen to their stories.

“Of all the sad stories I have heard, the saddest thing I heard was that it was 100 percent preventable,” said Hatton. “There was a bond that should have been paid that would cover a month’s wages, and had that been paid, none of this would’ve happened. There would’ve been protection for these miners.”

Hatton added although the region is “used to ups and downs in the coal industry, this was not the usual lay off.”

“This was worse,” Hatton said.

“You didn’t even really hear about stuff like this even during the strikes in the ‘60s,” Mosley said. “It was usually wage disputes on what they were trying to get paid for the future, not what they were supposed to be paid previously. These people work their whole lives to have what they have, just like we all do. About 80 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.”

Mosley said throughout the past 40 days of the Blackjewel situation there have been people being critical toward the help laid-off miners have received.

“Those who have been critical, I would challenge you to spend less time being critical and spend that time being productive and actually helping those that need help,” Mosley said. “Don’t be critical of the help they’ve received. Be critical of yourself for not helping.

“We pull together as a community in tough times – we always have in eastern Kentucky. It’s in our fiber. We have to take care of each other.”

Mosley said he spoke with the president of Kopper Glo Mining earlier in the day, who told Mosley he was “very excited about coming to Harlan County and getting this operation up and running.”

“They’re still filing through some processes that they have to go through with the bankruptcy court to be able to get operations resumed,” Mosley said. “He did not give me a timeline, but he is committed to putting people back to work. I don’t expect this to set up there idle much longer.”

Also present during the press conference was Kentucky State Representative Chris Fugate and Kentucky Senator Morgan McGarvey.

If you would like to read the bill pre-filed by Turner, please click here.