Students, author to be among mining protesters

Protesters cheer during speeches at I Love Mountains Day at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012. Photo by Tessa Lighty | Staff

By Judah Taylor| @jtaylor

jtaylor@kykernel.com

The chants, voices and messages of hundreds of Appalachians and activists will be heard ringing from the Capitol’s steps on Thursday, in an effort to ban the practice of removing Kentucky’s mountaintops for their coal.

Among the voices at I Love Mountains Day in Frankfort — which include UK students — will be Laurel County native and New York Times bestselling author Silas House, who will be the keynote speaker.

In a phone interview, House described the hills of Kentucky as a “war zone” that is riddled with political corruption, pollution and unsafe living conditions.

Although raised in a pro-coal family that was dependent on the mines, the Berea College professor said that he has seen Appalachian families suffering from blast explosions that are rattling the foundations of their homes, destroying their backyards and often leaving their water supplies poisoned with cancer-causing toxins, and no one in Frankfort is listening.

Mountaintop-removal mining is a method of mining that involves blowing up mountaintops, as much as 400 vertical feet of earth, to get to a mountain’s underlying coal seams. Since the 1970s in Appalachia, the practice has been a cheap way of mining that opponents say takes the price of mining away from the mining company.

Much of the removed mountaintops are often dumped into valleys and rivers called “holler fills,” or “valley fills.” Filled with carcinogens and other toxic byproducts of the mining process, these fills can be the cause of harmful environmental and health conditions.

House said mountaintop removal is an “issue that is important for everyone, because we all live together.”

“It’s an environmental issue, health issue, religious issue, moral issue, political issue … an issue that hits us from everywhere,” he said.

“Everyone knows the problems; we need to talk about the solutions.” House said he will speak Thursday about old power fighting against new power, both in terms of power as energy, and in terms of power in politics and how they are shaping, or removing, the hills of Kentucky.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a group that advocates social, political and economical fairness throughout the Bluegrass sponsors the rally.

“(It’s) a positive, visionary message that recognizes the immediate need to stop the large-scale destruction of the land and water by mountaintop-removal coal mining in Eastern Kentucky, while actively pursuing the opportunity to begin a just transition to a more diverse, sustainable and thriving economy in Kentucky,” said Jerry Hardt, communications director for KFTC, in an email to the Kernel.

He said this year’s theme is “We Believe in Appalachia’s Bright Future.” Also among the voices on the Capitol steps will be UK students, including members of KFTC’s UK branch.

UK KFTC President Sanjana Pampati said mountaintop-removal mining “can destroy entire ecosystems and communities, just for cheap coal … and studies show that coal consumption needs can be equaled without the destruction of mountains.”

Underscoring the importance of alternative fuels and methods of obtaining traditional fuels, she said, “as long as we continue to organize through our grassroots, we will reach our goals” of a brighter future.

“Anti-coal activists, such as Ashley Judd and Silas House, are out of step with the vast majority of Kentuckians, especially those living in the coal fields,” said Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association.

The seams are so close to the top of the mountains that going at them underground would result in unstable mines that could easily collapse. And if they didn’t collapse, the price of the coal would be so expensive that companies would be unable to sell it, Bissett said.

Bissett acknowledged some risks in mountaintop-removal mining, but stressed that they were not extraneous.

“Whenever you move large amounts of dirt and rock there are precautions that must be taken, not only to follow the law, but the wishes of the land owners as well, which are agreed upon in advance of any mining,” he said.

Bissett said mountaintop-removal mining is completely legal and a heavily regulated form of surface mining that is widely used in both Eastern and Western Kentucky.

“These agreements can range from returning the land to its original approximate contour, or creating economic development opportunities that would not have been possible with the existing topography,” he said.

This Valentine’s Day marks the eighth annual I Love Mountains Day in the Bluegrass, and is the fifth with a rally in the capital, which starts at 1:15 p.m.

More information about the day is at kftc.org/events/ i-love-mountains-day.

Hank Fay says:

@Just Sayin’

Coal provides 2% to 3% of Kentucky’s jobs (down from 20% before strip mining). That these jobs are important to those who have them is very true. We need to work at creating job opportunities for Kentuckians, especially in coal country. But the case that coal is important to Kentucky’s economy just doesn’t hold water.

That the people of Kentucky are being medically harmed by coal mining is also fact, well documented. Ad hominem attacks, such as calling views with which you disagree “liberal brainwashing”, are a poor substitute for factual information.

@Judah

I hope you will attend I Love Mountains Day, and interview the young people there. The future of Kentucky is indeed bright, as reflected in the awareness of our young people that helping those who are being harmed is an important part of their lives.

Hank Fay

Just Sayin' says:

Here’s some wisdom for you. Only an idealistic, out-of-touch with reality liberal would be anti-coal if they’re a Kentuckian. I grew up in a family of coal miners and know first hand all the arguments here, so don’t give me any of that “I’m a professor from California and I study poor people from Appalachia and here is what I know” BS. If you sit through a Sociology course at UK you will be brainwashed into believing coal is the worst thing to ever happen to Appalachia. The liberal politics of the professors will subtly try to make you passionate about their agendas, and then they’ll award you with extra credit if you attend various anti-coal rallies and what not. I would wager that half the people at these rallies are there because they’re getting academic credit to do so. The other half simply have no lives and are the tree-hugging naturalist that lives in a world of unicorns and bubblegum farts. The fact is Kentuckians should be kissing the ball sacks of coal mining companies, instead of demonizing them. Without coal, KY would be far poorer than it already is. Coal is the one thing that gives an incredibly depressed part of the state some glimmer of hope and allows families to eat. Of course, liberals would rather these people didn’t work and instead join the welfare line so that everyone else’s taxes can go up dramatically to support the extra mouths to feed and backs to clothe. Coal miners accept personal responsibility and they know the risks of the jobs, but do it anyway. It’s called “manning up” and doing what you have to do when you don’t have a higher education and no prospect of making ends meet otherwise. At least they’re doing something, as opposed to sitting at a university over a hundred miles about arguing about the philosophical reasons for their plight. Every year it’s the same thing with the liberal brainwashing attempt on campus (and beyond). Smart people (meaning people that can think with their own brains) should be able to see right through this.