- Associated Press - Friday, April 25, 2014
Keystone XL pipeline part of larger Senate fight

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Alison Lundergan Grimes is the latest Democratic Senate candidate to call for building the Keystone XL oil pipeline, but the Kentucky secretary of state’s move doesn’t seem to have cost her support among environmental groups who want to unseat Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

It’s evidence that campaign wrangling over Keystone XL is about more than the project itself. It’s also about the battle for control of the Senate in the November midterm elections, with Republicans within striking distance of assuming the majority. Also on display are long-standing partisan divides between the energy industry, which tends to support Republicans, and environmentalists, who generally support Democrats.

Many oil, gas and coal interests want McConnell to become the agenda-setting majority leader. Green advocacy groups want to keep things as they are, with Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada leading a Democratic majority that’s generally more in line with environmentalists’ concerns - even if the Democratic caucus includes industry-friendly senators from energy-producing states, from Sen. Mary Landrieu’s Louisiana to Sen. Mark Begich’s Alaska.

That means Grimes can get away with endorsing the Keystone XL pipeline that many environmental activists loathe. On the same day Grimes revealed her support for the pipeline to The Associated Press this week, a national group dedicated to blocking it announced it would spend $500,000 to support her effort to unseat McConnell.

McConnell’s campaign seized on the politics of strange bedfellows.

“One of two things is happening,” spokeswoman Allison Moore said in a written statement. “Either Alison Lundergan Grimes has given these groups assurances that she’s not giving to Kentuckians, or the partisanship of these groups exceeds their stated environmental goals.”


Inmate’s starvation death sparks lawmakers’ review

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A Kentucky lawmaker is pledging to hold hearings on prison medical issues after an inmate at a maximum-security facility starved to death on a hunger strike.

State Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, said Thursday he will ask during committee hearings later this year for an explanation of the handling of 57-year-old James Kenneth Embry. Yonts also said he would look into prison funding, staffing and the hiring of medical personnel.

“This may represent a total failure of the medical system and medical providers at the prison,” Yonts said.

An Associated Press story this week revealed Embry’s hunger strike and death in January at the Kentucky State Penitentiary. Administrators fired the prison’s lead doctor, barred a contract nurse from working there and put two other medical staffers on leave while the state moves to dismiss them. The lead physician, Dr. Steve Hiland of Eddyville, said he was on vacation out of the country at the time of Embry’s death and never saw the inmate. He remains in private practice.

The Kentucky Department of Corrections asked the Attorney General’s Office to begin criminal investigation after The AP asked about Embry’s death. Embry had a little more than three years left to serve on a nine-year sentence when he died after refusing 35 of 36 meals and dropping 32 pounds in the last month of his life.

Yonts said no dates have been set for the hearings and he’s reluctant to call inmates to testify publicly in Frankfort.

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