Monday, December 07, 2009

E-mail raises questions about role of Kentucky's biggest coal company in state mine official's firing

In November we reported the former head of Kentucky's mine-permit division said he was fired because he refused to approve permits under a policy he said was illegal. Now an internal e-mail sent by an Alliance Coal executive has raised additional questions about the company's role in Ron Mills' firing. Most of the questioned permits were for underground mines ploanned by Alliance. The e-mail, sent by Raymond "Rusty" Ashcraft, Alliance's manager of environmental affairs and permitting at the company's Lexington office, informed his colleagues of the firing just minutes after Mills had been notified, John Cheves reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The controversial rule allows a coal company to mine without showing that it has the legal right to enter as much as a third of the land in its plans, and is the subject of a lawsuit the Kentucky Resources Council is preparing to file. KRC Director Tom Fitzgerald obtained a copy of Ashcraft's email and provided it to the Herald-Leader. The e-mail, sent at 9:24 a.m. on Nov. 13, also said Mills would be replaced by his deputy on an acting basis. Mills told Cheves in an interview he was fired just before the e-mail was sent and his replacement was not named until the afternoon.

"Ashcraft seemed to know before I did that I was going to be fired," Mills told Cheves. "Obviously, somebody in the administration felt compelled to call him and tell him. But why? Why are they calling coal companies about their decisions to hire and fire the people in my position?" State Energy and Environment Secretary Len Peters said last week he alone made the decision to fire Mills, and Kerri Richardson, spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Beshear, told Cheves, "As for how Rusty got information on Mr. Mills being fired, I have no idea. I don't have any information for you on that." (Read more)

In October we reported here and here that Joe Craft, president and chief executive officer of Alliance Resource Partners L.P., headed a $7 million group donation to the University of Kentucky Athletic Association to name a new men's basketball team dormitory Wildcat Coal Lodge.

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