By Magen McCrarey
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
More than 1,000 citizens from London and across the Appalachian region gathered in Frankfort on February 14 for the annual "I Love Mountains" Rally, organized by the non-profit Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFCT). This year, the rally focused on the future of the Appalachian region with a call to end destructive mining practices and invest in clean energy.
"I see so many people down home who go around with bumper stickers claiming they are "Friends of Coal." Since that organization is bankrolled by the industry itself, it is fair to say that those people, while perhaps good intentioned, are supporting corporations instead of people," said Silas House, Appalachian author and Laurel County native.
"I wish they would instead join us in being friends of miners and mountains."
Speakers during the rally summoned legislators to support bills before the current General Assembly, including The Clean Energy Opportunity Act (HB 170) and the Stream Saver Bill (HB 86). In December 2008, the dumping of toxic mining debris and waste in streams and valleys was federally approved. With that approval, it was determined that mining activities must first comply with water quality standards established by the federal government and the states.
HB 86 would prohibit the dumping of toxic mining waste into any stream. The vast concerns that ran high during the rally were not only to protect Kentucky's mountainous landscape, water quality and biological diversity, but to also improve the Appalachian region's job market.
HB 170's primary focus is to provide goals and incentives that would spur the development of renewable energy and energy efficient programs.
"If our state would pass the Clean Energy Opportunity Act, studies have shown that we could net 28,000 new jobs over a 10 year period," House said.
Several eastern Kentucky citizens cited their belief that building a sustainable and diverse economy is possible.
"The debate we need is bigger than jobs. It's about the kinds of jobs we want and deserve," said Elizabeth Sanders of Letcher County.
"We need to think longer term and make economic decisions that are good for our land and our people. It's clear to most people that rapid economic transition is already underway in eastern Kentucky, " she continued. "We have an opportunity, if we pull together, to build a bright future."
This proposal was also echoed by a third-generation coal miner, Carl Shoupe of Harlan County.
"Building a better future — and stopping the destruction — won't be easy," he said. "It will take a vision of what our future can be. It will take all of us working together. And it will take real leadership with courage and conviction."
Shoupe said he believes politicians who are "friends of coal" are standing in the way of a better future for the region, but are not friends of coal miners and their families.
"This week Governor Beshear tried to rush through a plan to… make it easier for coal companies to poison our water with selenium. Coalfield residents already suffer higher rates of cancer and birth defects, and the governor wants to make it easier for coal companies to pollute?" he asked the crowd standing on the steps of the Capitol. "I wonder which of his coal friends asked him to do that? He may be a friend of wealthy coal barons, but he's no friend of coalfield children who deserve clean water."
Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFCT) is a state-wide grassroots citizens' organization of 7,500 members spread through Kentucky's 120 counties. The organization is open to all who seek equality, democracy and non-violent change.
For more information about HB 86 or 170, visit www.lrc.gov. For more about KFTC, visit www.kftc.org.