KY GOP candidates pledge allegiance to coal in E. Ky debate


by Associated Press

Posted on April 5, 2010 at 7:46 PM

BARBOURVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Republicans Rand Paul and Trey Grayson, facing off Monday in a political debate in the eastern Kentucky coalfields, pledged allegiance to the mining industry and promised to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency if elected to the U.S. Senate.

"The EPA is out of control," Paul told about 200 people gathered inside the Conway Boatman Chapel at Union College in Barbourville. "Where do they get the authority to be a lawmaking body?"

Both Paul and Grayson, the leading contenders among five candidates seeking the Republican nomination, were sharply critical of the EPA for adopting regulations they described as harmful to the state's coal industry and its 17,000 workers.

Grayson, Kentucky's secretary of state, said he wants to "stop the EPA's attempt to regulate coal out of existence."

"It's a war on all of Kentucky," he said.

Mining is a key issue in Barbourville and other heavily Republican southeastern Kentucky cities that rely heavily on the coal industry. And the candidate that voters here perceive to be most friendly toward coal is the one most likely to pick up political support in the race to replace retiring Sen. Jim Bunning, a former major league pitcher enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame who opted not to seek a third term.

All five expressed their support for the mining practice known as mountaintop removal coal mining, which, as the name implies, involves blasting away peaks to unearth the black mineral.

Long-shot candidate Gurley Martin of Owensboro echoed the sentiments of the five candidates when he said: "Mountaintop removal is the business of the people who own the mountaintops. The federal government needs to butt out."

Grayson was the GOP establishment's early choice, quickly racking up endorsements from GOP leaders, including former Vice President Dick Cheney. Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon who campaigned as a political outsider, has picked up some key endorsements of his own, including those of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes.

Paul also has the endorsement of his father, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

Grayson repeated a claim at the Monday evening debate that he has made in television attack ads -- that Paul wants to release terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay back to their home countries. Paul again denied that claim, saying he wants the Cuban prison to remain open and to have the prisoners tried before military tribunals.

Both candidates have spent heavily on television advertising. Paul, capitalizing on his father's nationwide network of campaign donors, has banked about $2.4 million in contributions. Grayson has collected $2 million.

The eventual Republican nominee will likely face one of two well-funded Democrats, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo or Attorney General Jack Conway.

Although Kentucky is solidly Democratic by voter registration, it tends to vote Republican in federal races. The GOP holds both Senate seats and four of six House seats, and Republican John McCain carried the state in last year's presidential election with 57 percent of the vote.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

APTV-04-05-10 1937EDT