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Former coal executive chosen to lead Kentucky's Energy and Environment Cabinet
December 9, 2015

Former president of eastern United States operations for Arch Coal, Charles Snavely, has been chosen to lead Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet by Gov. Matt Bevin.

Prior to his stint with Arch Coal, Snavely worked for International Coal Group. And, while some environmental groups have questioned the logic of putting a former coal executive in such a position, the move makes perfect sense of 2015 SME President Steve Gardner, president of ECSI, a Lexington-based mining engineering firm. Gardner told Kentucky’s WFPL news station, that Snavely is a good fit for the position.

“To properly regulate an industry, you need to know something about it,” said Gardner. “I know he’s (Snavely) taken some criticism from environmental activists. I heard the one quote from one gentleman who said ‘it’s the fox guarding the hen house,’ and I would take strong exception to that,” Gardner said. “You’ve got somebody guarding the hen house who knows something about the hens.”

As secretary of the Energy and Environment Cabinet, Snavely will oversee the state’s coal mine safety programs, as well as the state government divisions that regulate oil, gas and forestry operations, environmental protection programs and the Division for Energy Development and Independence.

Snavely’s background in large coal companies may mean he has an accurate understanding of the challenges facing Kentucky’s coal industry, Tom FitzGerald, of the Kentucky Resources Council, said.

One of the major challenges Snavely will face in his new role is how to proceed regarding compliance with new federal carbon dioxide regulations to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“The Clean Power Plan is going to be a big challenge,” Gardner said.

Before his election, Bevin indicated Kentucky wouldn’t submit a plan and would instead ignore federal environmental laws.

“And that makes great copy and great soundbites, but the reality is, if you default on preparing a state plan, EPA wil,l in fact, put together a federal plan,” FitzGerald said. “And that federal plan may have more significant consequences than a state-advised plan.”

The deadline for the state to submit a plan is next September, though state officials could submit an outline and ask for an extension.

Another challenge Snavely will face is delegating sufficient funds to the Energy and Environment Cabinet. Environmental protection programs in particular have been cut significantly in the past decade, and FitzGerald said they’ve reached the point where regulators don’t have enough resources to do their jobs.

“I am confident that Charles will be able to handle the job,” Gardner said. “He’s a very no-nonsense type of manager, and the type of guy who will get in and study the issues and delegate to the appropriate people to handle the details.”
 

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