Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:
The News-Enterprise, Elizabethtown, Kentucky, on right-to-work:
With its recent unanimous vote to hear a first reading of Ordinance 300, Fiscal Court members seek to add Hardin County to others in the state to enact local right-to-work ordinances. Positioned to promote economic development and commerce locally "by regulating certain involuntary payments required by employees in Hardin County," a second reading and vote on the ordinance is expected Jan. 13.
Simply put, the proposed ordinance would make paying union dues a voluntary decision for local employees working in companies where collective bargaining agreements are in place. If enacted, no longer would these workers be required to pay dues to a union they don't want to join as a condition of employment as established by contract in union shops.
Warren County was the first in the nation to take this bold step when its county fiscal court enacted their local legislation Dec. 18. Simpson and Fulton counties quickly followed suit with passage of similar ordinances. Todd County has approved a first reading of a similar ordinance, while Cumberland County has scheduled an initial reading of theirs during the first meeting of its Fiscal Court this month.
Local economic development officials and outside consultants consistently point out that absence of right-to-work legislation can be a deal-breaker for many domestic and foreign companies seeking to expand or relocate. Where right-to-work ordinances are in place, it eliminates these real or perceived hurdles that stand in the way of economic development within communities.
Kentucky has no state law pertaining to right-to-work. Past bills have either died in committee or legislative leadership has refused to allow them to come to the floor for vote. With each failure, Kentucky has slipped further behind our neighboring states with business-friendly laws. Because the legislature has been unwilling to act, counties are moving ahead under their "home rule" options.
Our local magistrates are in agreement with their counterparts in each of these counties on this. And it's a good thing because Warren, Simpson and other counties will have an advantage over less aggressive neighbors that fail to act just as Indiana and all of the South have an edge over Kentucky now.
Pro-union voices will argue that data is scarce to support this benefit. But, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, during the years 1990 to 2014 total employment grew more than double the rate in states where right-to-work legislation was in place than in others were mandatory union dues were required of workers.
Labor bosses also argue that these local ordinances are illegal, saying local governments don't have the legal empowerment to pass them. Through an advisory opinion authored and signed by one of his staffers, Kentucky Attorney Gen. Jack Conway has agreed. Legal challenges to these local ordinances should be expected.
While economic development might well be aided through the ordinance, if enacted local right-to-work most certainly will be a strong step forward for worker choice in Hardin County. Forcing an employee to join and pay a fee to a group they wish to not be associated with or represented by isn't fair. This is this sentiment of most Americans considering we support right-to-work legislation by a 3-to-1 margin according to Gallup.
Hardin Fiscal Court is applauded for taking this bold step and magistrates are encouraged to adopt right-to-work locally upon second reading of the ordinance.
The Independent, Ashland, Kentucky, on coal ash standards:
In announcing the first national standards for the waste generated from coal burned for electricity, the Obama administration rejected demands by environmentalists that coal waste be declared a hazardous material. Instead, the new standards issued by the Environmental Protection Agency treat coal waste more like household garbage than hazardous material.
The new regulations are a rare victory for the coal industry in its effort to limit regulations that could hamper further production of coal in the United States.
Environmentalists had pushed for the hazardous classification, citing the hundreds of cases nationwide in which coal ash waste had tainted waterways or underground aquifers. The coal industry wanted the less stringent classification, arguing coal ash wasn't dangerous, and that a hazardous label would hinder recycling. About 40 percent of coal ash is reused.
In announcing the first regulations on coal ash on the Friday before Christmas, the EPA said the record did not support a hazardous classification. The agency said the steps they were taking would protect communities from the risks associated with coal ash waste sites and hold the companies operating them accountable.
"It does what we hoped to accomplish ... in a very aggressive but reasonable and pragmatic way," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
The Obama administration was under court order to unveil the standards before Christmas, ending a six-year effort that began after a massive spill at a Tennessee power plant in 2008. Since then, the EPA has documented coal ash waste sites tainting hundreds of waterways and underground aquifers in numerous states with heavy metals and other toxic contaminants.
Coal ash had been piling up in ponds and landfill sites at power plants for years, an unintended consequence of the EPA's push to scrub air pollutants from smokestacks. There are numerous ponds holding coal ash in this region, and when one of those ponds collapses and dumps tons of coal ash waste into nearby waterways, it contaminates the waterways and requires a major clean up, costing the coal industry millions of dollars to clean up. But coal waste, while nasty to look at and unpleasant to be around, does not pollute the waterways with deadly chemicals.
In volume, coal waste ranks only behind household trash in quantity, and it is expected to grow as the EPA controls pollutants like heat-trapping carbon dioxide and mercury and other toxic air pollutants from the nation's coal fleet. On the upside, a switch from coal to natural gas-fired power plants in recent years has generated less ash.
The new EPA rules will boost monitoring for leaks and control blowing dust and require companies to make testing results public. They also set standards for closing waste sites, requiring those that are structurally deficient or tainting waterways to close. That could eliminate some waste ponds in this region, and if so, that will be a positive. Our concern is that there are too many existing waste ponds locally that are largely unregulated and, with little to no oversight, could be at risk of collapsing and causing a major disaster. The EPA regulations attempt to eliminate — or at least greatly reduce — the risks posed by coal waste without imposing stringent standards that records clearly show are simply not needed.
Not surprisingly environmental groups like the Sierra Club are not happy with the new EPA rules and have vowed to fight for stronger regulations.
"While EPA and the Obama Administration have taken a modest first step by introducing some protections on the disposal of coal ash, they do not go far enough to protect families from this toxic pollution," said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's coal campaign.
We disagree. We think on this issue, the Obama administration is seeking to find a reasonable middle ground on coal ash. We think it has found it.
Daily News, Bowling Green, Kentucky, on heating bills:
Last winter was a very unusual one for south-central Kentucky. Temperatures were bone-chilling, and although Bowling Green and surrounding counties only saw one big snowfall, cold temperatures were a lot to bear.
This year has been different though. We had a unusually cold November, a rather mild December and now we are expecting yet again a bone-chilling first week of January and beyond. Tonight the temperature is supposed to drop to nearly zero.
Regardless of what lies ahead weather-wise, there is still a lot of winter left, which is why it is good to know there is heating assistance available to help with energy bills that will likely rise with this cold weather.
Community Action of Southern Kentucky will be accepting applications Monday for Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Those interested must apply at the Community Action office in their county of residence. In Warren County, people should apply at 171 Center St. Doors open at 8 a.m.
Another agency helping with utility bills is Churches United in Christ Help Ministries, a network of five downtown churches that pools money and distributes it to those who need help paying utility bills. State Street Methodist will receive applications from 1 to 3 p.m. today.
St. Vincent de Paul Society, which is available at St. Joseph Catholic Church and Holy Spirit Catholic Church, will also help people with such needs. The St. Joseph St. Vincent de Paul conference at 1133 Adams St. will accept requests from people living north of U.S. 31-W By-Pass, Morgantown Road and Fairview Avenue. Those living south can seek help from the Holy Spirit conference in the red building in front of Holy Spirit Church at 4754 Smallhouse Road. Holy Spirit is open for requests from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Requests for help from the St. Joseph conference should be made by calling 270-393-9800.
These organizations are doing a great service for area counties. Unfortunately, some struggle with utility bills year-round, but when cold weather hits, it's nice to know people who need help have places to turn for help with higher bills.
We encourage those who truly need this service to use it to help them get through what could end up being a very cold winter. We also encourage people who might not be aware of these services to let others know about them so they will know where to sign up for help.
Our community is fortunate to have agencies and churches who come together to help with problems driven by extreme temperatures.
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