By Cameron Baller, UK Greenthumb
I attended the Kentucky Manufacturer's Conference and Trade Show as a member of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition. I support bringing manufacturing jobs to Kentucky and I was curious to learn more about the industry. But instead of hearing about ways government and industry officials are working to bring safe, well-paying jobs to one of our nation’s poorest states, I got an earful of jubilation for cutting safeguards and regulations that protect our workers, communities, and environment.
Going into the conference, I was expecting explanations of why the economy should be prioritized over the environment. What I was not expecting was a near total disregard for environmental issues like climate change and water protection. It wasn’t just that the environment was less important, it was entirely unimportant. And if Kentucky’s manufacturing industry finds the environment worthless, it follows that the industry also finds the people in the environment worthless.
At one point, Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Charles Snavely, former Arch Coal executive, listed off all of the environmental policies that President Trump has rolled back, grinning the whole way through as if it was so grand that many more people will now suffer the health impacts of having to drink polluted water and breathe toxic air. The person charged with protecting Kentucky’s land, water, and air applauded the approval of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, the removal of critical stream protections, and the scrapping of the Clean Power Plan.
Later in the conference, there was a panel on pipelines and a Marathon Petroleum representative basically said that all of the protests of pipelines were not about water contamination, explosions, or land rights, but were some kind of liberal façade to block the fossil fuel industry. He went on to say the dangers of leaks were miniscule. But when I asked him how much could leak from a pipeline before being detected, he said hundreds of barrels. Let me restate that, if there is a leak that is smaller than “hundreds of barrels,” let’s say 100 or 200 barrels, they would not even know that the leak had occurred. Our water would be contaminated and we wouldn’t even know. The fact that a fossil fuel representative can totally dismiss environmental activists in one breath and then state that there could be hundreds of barrels of oil leaking into our groundwater and no one would know about it is absolutely absurd.
The tone of the Kentucky Manufacturer’s Conference should remind us of two important responsibilities. First, we must never let politicians like Trump or Bevin get into office, especially because they won’t be alone, they will bring the Pruitts and Snavelys of the world who will only multiply the destruction they bring onto our people and planet. Second, we must hold corporations accountable. Marathon should not be allowed to operate a pipeline if they can’t detect a hundred barrel leak.
Corporations in Kentucky and across the country are getting away with murder because they have politicians in their pockets. It is time to vote with our ballots, vote with our wallets and make ourselves heard.
The Young Kentuckian is a blog of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition where youth share their work and ideas for Kentucky's bright future.
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