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In Kentucky's Coal Country, A Resentment For Obama

Posted: January 21, 2013

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If the voters in Louisa, Ky., had their wish, Mitt Romney would have taken the oath of office Monday. The local coal-fired power plant is due to close amid a push for cleaner-burning plants. Local residents blame Obama for the pending job losses.

The Big Sandy Power Plant, 4 miles north of Louisa, is the biggest industry in Lawrence County. Local residents blame President Obama's environmental policies for the company's plans to close the plant in 2015.

The Big Sandy Power Plant, 4 miles north of Louisa, is the biggest industry in Lawrence County. Local residents blame President Obama's environmental policies for the company's plans to close the plant in 2015. Noah Adams

If the voters in Louisa, Ky., had their wish, Mitt Romney would have taken the oath of office Monday. Louisa is in eastern Kentucky, and "coal" was the one-word issue in the election. President Obama is seen as an enemy of coal mining and he got only 27 percent of the vote in the county.

And now comes word that Louisa is going to lose its biggest industry — a power generating plant that's been burning coal since 1962.

Stand outside the courthouse in Louisa, a small town of 2,000 people, and you'll see that it's easy to meet a coal miner. Mitchell Maynard is a third-generation miner. He's not happy with the president.

"Anything to do with coal, Obama's against it, so that hurt us real bad," Maynard says. "I mean, everybody's losing their job. I just got back to work just two weeks ago from being laid off. Everybody you talk to's against coal anymore."

Four miles north of Louisa, on some days 200 coal trucks unload at the Big Sandy Power Plant.

This power plant has been online for 50 years, sending electricity through the grid even to New York City. Now the emission technology is out of date. The Environmental Protection Agency, pushed by the White House, wants cleaner-burning plants, and the company says this one will shut down in 2015. The company, American Electric Power, does say that one of the furnaces might be converted to natural gas.

The Louisa Rotary Club meets at the First Baptist Church and has Kentucky Fried Chicken. There are lots of Big Sandy Power people here, including retired engineer Bill England.

"We moved here in 1962 when they opened up Unit 1," England says. "We raised a family, they're both [University of Kentucky] college graduates; they both have jobs. Louisa's still a small town. It's a friendly town and I love it here."

Elaine DeSario has a long Louisa family history. Her great-grandfather ran a depot "when the trains started coming in with all the coal on them," she says. DeSario, an optometrist, moved back to town after earning three degrees.

"It's scary now," she says. "I've just hired three new people at my business. A large percentage of my patients comes from the power plant. I provide their safety glasses, their regular glasses. I know that I'm going to lose a lot of them. My appointment book is not nearly as backed up as it used to be."

In downtown Louisa, as you watch the big trucks rumble past all day, you wouldn't think the industry is slowing down.

If the Big Sandy Power Plant indeed closes two years from now, more than 100 jobs will go away and so will a lot of tax money — $400,000 a year for the county schools, $60,000 a year for the new library building.

Louisa resident Cody Endicott is 16 and his family's job is coal.

"My dad's a highwall miner. My uncle works on the strip mine. My pa-paw runs a 475 Komatsu dozer. The rest of them work in coal too but I'm not sure what their jobs are."

The teen will finish growing up as Louisa starts another new chapter. He says he won't work in coal. He plans to go to college and train to be a nurse.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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