Students, author to be among mining protesters



By Judah Taylor| @jtaylor

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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 i-love-mountains-day.