Their message was clear, though not everyone agrees with it.
The method of mining coal by known as mountaintop removal is not only dangerous to the mountains and the earth but to those who live on it.
Several hundred activists gathered for the seventh consecutive year on the steps of the state capitol to protest what they see as devastation to the mountains, streams and people of Appalachia, sacrificing the environment and health for profit.
“What you do to the mountains, you do to the people,” read one sign in the crowd.
In the background, coal trucks — sponsored by the Friends of Coal organization — circled the capitol in a protest of the protest.
“We don’t have to wring the blood out of people for profit,” said the Rev. John S. Rausch, director of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia. Even the economic arguments made by supporters of surface mining don’t hold water, he said, because there has been a “60 to 70 percent reduction of mine workers with technology.” Surface mining, he said, “is actually weakening the economy.”
One speaker, Ada Smith of Letcher County, said it’s wrong to lump those who oppose surface mining with those who oppose all efforts to mine coal.
“There is a right way and a wrong way to mine coal,” she told the crowd which stood on the plaza in front of the capitol in a drizzling rain and cool temperatures. She said the people of eastern Kentucky and central Appalachia are simply “asking for clean air, clean water and clean communities.”
Members of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth handed out information about the health effects of mountaintop removal, citing university studies which indicate populations living close to such mine sites have significantly higher rates of cancer, birth defects and suffer higher health-related costs. Other information cited increased flooding, pollution of once-pristine streams and loss of wildlife downstream from the valley fills caused by mountaintop removal.
Melina Laboucan-Massimo, of the Cree Nation in northern Alberta, Canada, was the featured speaker. She has been an outspoken opponent of the Keystone XL Pipeline, a proposed pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast to transport oil from tar sands mined near her childhood home.
She talked of a childhood when “our air was clean and clear” but that’s not the case any longer. She said photographs of mountaintop removal sites are “eerily similar” to tar sands mines back home. She urged protesters to call congressman, especially U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who supports the pipeline, to argue for its defeat.
“We came to tell our legislators we all deserve a better planet,” said Terri Blanton, the emcee for the program. “Mountaintop removal is just a symptom of a bigger problem which is a lack of respect for the earth.”
At least a couple of lawmakers listened — Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, and Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, were in the crowd. But not many of their colleagues would come near the rally in a state legislature dominated by coal interests.
Near where Stein stood, a young man held a sign which read: “Gov. Beshear, get off OUR backs.” That was reference to a statement Gov. Steve Beshear made in last year’s State of the Commonwealth address to a joint session of the legislature, a statement greeted, telling federal regulators to get off Kentucky’s back. It was greeted by loud applause at the time.
Beshear of course didn’t show up at the rally Tuesday. But protesters ended the rally by marching around the capitol and delivering a model of a mountain to the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion which is located in the rear of the capitol. Last year, several protesters occupied Beshear’s outer office prior to the annual I Love Mountains Day and Tuesday some protesters sat outside his office with signs protesting the method of mining. Among them were about 15 people who spent 12 days walking from Prestonsburg to Frankfort for Tuesday’s rally.
Loyal Jones, author and Director of the Appalachian Center at Berea College, quoted his friend, songwriter and poet Billy Edd Wheeler.
“Pity the man who can’t point to the place where he was a boy,” Jones quoted Wheeler as saying.
There were some in the crowd Tuesday who no longer can point to the missing mountains where they lived as children.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.
Their message was clear, though not everyone agrees with it.
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