Kentucky editorial roundup
Posted May 11
Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:
The Daily Independent of Ashland on how broadband connectivity will bring jobs to the region:
To Jared Arnett, the executive director of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, the future of Appalachia hinges on the ability to embrace technology and become a participant in the digital economy. With complete Internet access throughout the mountains, excelling in technology provides the opportunity for this region to compete with the rest of the world for the best, high-tech jobs of the future.
Arnett spoke about what having broadband connectivity creates for the region during a talk at Monday's meeting of the Ashland Rotary Club.
SOAR is a nonpartisan economic development agency that unites 54 eastern Kentucky counties with the task to expand job creation, enhance regional opportunity, innovation and identity, improve the quality of life and support all those working to achieve these goals.
Arnett shared SOAR's blueprint developed for building jobs, capacity and health. Increasing the availability of affordable high-speed broadband, through fiber, to businesses and residents is one of seven goals within the blueprint.
He noted the blueprint for 21st century Appalachia is not a typical plan, but one that can be implemented at the local level.
There are 18 million jobs in the digital economy right now, said Arnett. He used Amazon Web Services as an example of an ideal partnership that could connect jobs to those in rural counties, without people having to relocate, saying there are dozens of other similar companies. Arnett said the skills needed could be taught through community colleges via a partnership with SOAR.
He added for this to happen, people need to be connected and need to have available broadband. He also said another aspect of the 21st century workforce is to have others understand how to make a living from the Internet.
Arnett explained this plan is not as much needed in Ashland as it is in more rural areas with fewer resources like Harlan and Leslie counties, citing the competitive industrial assets incorporated in the town, including the interstate, river and industrial park.
Clearly, Internet-based jobs are growing rapidly and as this region improves its access to dependable, high-speed Internet service, there is no reason individuals living in Hazard, Martin, Fallsburg and Ashland cannot land those jobs.
Some skeptics may dismiss Arnett and others as unrealistic dreamers, but we think they are on the right track in building a better future for the region. One does not need to live in a major city with an interstate highway and a major airport to work from home. Neither do you need all and conveniences large cities offer. All you need in easy access to the Internet and the easiest, least expensive improvement this region can make to boost our economy. It should be or highest priority.
The Louisville Courier Journal on a recent water report from the Natural Resources Defense Council:
A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council this week is another reminder that nobody should take drinking water for granted.
Especially people in Kentucky.
The report did not put our state in a positive light.
As the Courier-Journal's James Bruggers reported, in 2015 more people in Kentucky — 53 percent — get their water from utilities with at least one violation of federal safety regulations. Many Kentucky utilities had a lot more. And for the most serious violations, Kentucky was ranked fifth worst in terms of the number of people potentially affected - some 1.5 million people.
State regulators responded by saying that the report was misleading and offered assurances that Kentucky's drinking water utilities provide reliable and high-quality drinking water. And they have been working more closely with drinking water utilities in the aftermath of the infamous disaster over lead in Flint, Michigan.
But this report should not be dismissed, either.
It should be a reminder to the hundreds of drinking water utilities in Kentucky — and to state regulators — that they need to be extra vigilant when it comes to operating their systems.
The report calls for more effective enforcement and more spending on crumbling water systems across the nation.
But all that could be a challenge because Kentucky's Energy and Environment Cabinet has suffered years of budget cuts. And President Trump this year has pledged to cut the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — with ultimate enforcement responsibilities — by 30 percent.
The report should also be a reminder to Kentucky residents to check their utilities' annual water quality reports to see if there are violations and if so, to demand better service.
The Lexington Herald-Leader on saving coal miners' pensions:
Mitch McConnell made them sweat until there was no chance that Democrat Barack Obama could get any credit, but finally the Senate majority leader gave a green light to rescuing the health-care benefits owed to 22,600 union coal miners and their widows.
Now McConnell and the rest of Congress must get busy protecting the pensions of miners and thousands of other Americans who worked hard all their lives but are facing impoverishment in old age because of faltering pension plans.
The pension crisis threatens almost 120,000 miners and widows, including 9,000 in Kentucky, and will be thornier than health care to fix because it's part of a wider problem.
The federal insurance plan for multi-employer pensions, those plans in which a number of employers in the same industry join to pool pension payments, is severely underfunded and likely to run out of money by 2025. Meanwhile, almost a million Americans are in multi-employer pension plans that are classified as in critical or declining status, according to the Pension Rights Center.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal agency that insures pensions, would likely be busted by the failure of the miners' pension plan. The United Mine Workers of America pension plan, which was in good shape before 2008, has been crushed by the double whammy of the 2008 stock market crash and the coal industry's decline.
In December 2015, McConnell blocked the Miners Protection Act, a bipartisan rescue of miners' health care and pensions that had the Obama administration's support.
More recently McConnell, the most powerful Kentuckian in Washington, successfully pushed for a temporary health-care fix and then the permanent plan that cleared Congress and was signed by President Donald Trump last week as part of a big spending bill.
The rescue came just in time as 3,000 Kentuckians whose employers have gone bankrupt were about to be cut off from the health-care benefits on which they depend. (This rescue won't help miners whose benefits are threatened by coal companies going out of business in the future.)
We join the UMWA in thanking McConnell for protecting the miners and their hometown medical providers from losing $59 million a year in health-care benefits in Kentucky alone.
McConnell, who took credit for the health-care rescue, has said nothing about the related and looming crisis in the coal miners' pension fund.
But the challenges of securing Americans' retirements will only grow as work becomes ever more automated and baby boomers age out of the workforce in ever greater numbers. Those combined trends will leave behind a smaller number of workers to contribute to pension funds for the larger senior population.
The average UMWA pension is $530 a month. Even in today's fast-changing and politically polarized times, Americans surely still agree that decades of hard — and, for coal miners, deadly — work should be rewarded with more than an old age in poverty.