June 12, 2013 —
Just when we thought we had seen every dumb move possible in state government, the Frankfort bureaucracy produced another whopper.
Basically, a state agency established to spend millions of dollars in tobacco settlement funds has decided to loan $2.5 million to a Louisville company to convert recovered airborne sulfur from coal-burning power plants into pelletized fertilizer for sale to farmers.
On the surface, that deal might look OK but it actually stinks worse than the sulfur itself.
First and foremost, crop scientists at the University of Kentucky say state farmers need little, if any, of the proposed fertilizer because our soil generally is not deficient in that chemical.
The loan was approved for a company owned by a couple, Charles and Janet Price, who are prominent donors to Republican causes and candidates.
It would be sorely disappointing to think that State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who supported the loan application, would put his future political aspirations ahead of what is best for Kentucky’s farmers.
Wayne Hunt, a key member of the group approving the loan, is a fertilizer dealer.
Who could ever justify letting a person in that position make decisions about lending public funds to a fertilizer manufacturer?
Scrubbing the sulfur from emissions at generating plants of Louisville Gas and Electric is a good thing, as well as a legal requirement under the federal Clean Air Act.
Comer, a former legislator, is on the record saying that federal law has resulted in sulfur deprivation of Kentucky croplands.
When advised that UK research didn’t support his premise, Comer said he didn’t take advice from research universities but preferred to listen to real farmers and fertilizer dealers.
Does Comer not realize that UK is a land grant university with an historic mission of agricultural research and support?
The fund providing the money for this highly questionably loan was set up to help restructure Kentucky agriculture to lessen our dependency on tobacco.
The money resulted from lawsuit settlements with cigarette companies related to the health care costs of smokers.
In our view, this ill-considered fertilizer deal is not in the best interests of Kentucky’s farmers or our rural economy.
Moreover, it will consume more than half of the money expected to be available this year.
We believe the entire lending policy for tobacco settlement funds should be revisited by the General Assembly.
For example, why not give priority to projects that help market locally produced food?
That would help small farmers much more than fertilizer they don’t want or need.