26 Jan 2011, Posted by admin in Packages, No Comments.
Kentuckians Come Together to Save Mountains
Story by Max Webster
Braving freezing temperatures and icy roads, more than 800 Kentuckians marched Feb. 11 on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol in protest of the strip-mining of the state’s eastern Appalachian region in the 5th annual “I Love Mountains Day” rally.
Organized by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), a non-profit social justice group, “I Love Mountains Day” has grown exponentially from its birth five years ago, when a handful of the coalition’s leadership met to lobby the state legislature, to a grassroots movement that drew more than 1,200 people to the Kentucky capitol in 2009.
The KFTC uses the annual rally to raise awareness of mountaintop removal (MTR) a form of strip-mining that uses heavy explosives and draglines to blast away mountaintops so that coal companies can remove the coal seams below as quickly and economically as possible.
Opponents to MTR argue that the practice irrevocably damages the health and economy of local coalfield communities while destroying one of the oldest and most biologically diverse regions on earth.
Slideshow by Lauren Justice/NMB
“As Kentuckians, we live at the center of the storm,” said K.A. Owens, KFTC chairman. “We are challenging an industry with a century-long record of suppressing dissent, dividing neighbor against neighbor and corrupting every level of our democracy. We have arrived at a moment where change seems possible. But power concedes nothing without demands and we are here to make demands.”
This year’s rally focused on raising support for the recently introduced Stream Saver Bill, which would put restrictions on coal companies when dumping the overburden from mining operations in the valleys bellow. These valley fills often permanently cover up or damage regional streams and headwaters.
A 2005 study by the EPA into the effects of MTR found that more than 1,200 miles of streams have been “derogated” and a further 700 miles have been completely buried by mining-related dumping. Kentucky’s division of water also found that 47 percent of the state’s waterways are too polluted for drinking, fishing or swimming, with the typical pollutants being the sulfates and heavy metals produced in the strip-mining process.
This is the fifth consecutive year that such a bill has been introduced into the state legislature and many of the protestors at the rally suspect it’s likely to fail again. “It doesn’t have a chance,” said George Brosey, of Berea, Kentucky. “I hope we can get a national Steam Saver Bill, but I wanted to be here anyway.”
In the face of an unsupportive state government, the campaign against MTR is solely a grassroots movement relying on the leadership of organizations like KFTC, the Sierra Club, Mountain Justice and the Alliance for Appalachia to organize support.
It’s this kind of pressure that has lead to the introduction of the Clean Water Protection Act to the US House of Representatives. The bill, which would act as a national Stream Saver bill, currently has 161 cosponsors. In the Senate, a companion bill has 10 cosponsors and led to the first oversight meeting on MTR in 30 years.
“We’re gaining ground and I really do think that we’re winning,” said KTFC member Mickey McCoy. “When I see this large of a crowd turn out on a day like today to rally it just gives me something to be proud of.”
McCoy, a resident of Inez, Kentucky, where more than 25 percent of the land surface has been strip-mined, also believes that the large number of young people that have been turning out bodes well for the future of the movement and shows that the campaign against MTR is not a dying cause, “I could not believe at this year’s annual conference for the KFTC that I looked out and two-thirds of the delegation looked to be college kids.
“That’s where it’s got to go. That’s where real movements happen,” he added.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Owens, who said, “Along with our elders, our young people understand what is being lost, their future.”