By Ronnie Ellis/CNHI News Service
Hundreds showed up Monday on the state capitol steps to call on lawmakers to put an end to mountaintop removal and roar their approval for 14 protesters who camped out all weekend in Gov. Steve Beshear’s outer office.
The crowd marched up Capitol Avenue and then around the capitol as Deborah Payne of Berea welcomed them with lively fiddle tunes. Afterward the crowd cheered wildly for the 14 protestors who spent the weekend in the governor’s office as they stood arm in arm on the steps above the crowd.
The crowd began to chant: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” Someone yelled out: “We love you,” and another yelled: “Tell our governor, to come out and let us talk to him.” He didn’t — nor did any state lawmakers.
“It’s good to be outside,” said Teri Blanton of Berea, one of the protestors who spent the weekend on the floor of Beshear’s outer office. She called “for an end to mountaintop removal and an immediate end to destructive strip mining.
“We want our elected officials, including our governor, to stand up for our health and to put pressure on the polluters and not the protestors,” Blanton said. Alluding to Beshear’s call for federal mining regulators to “get off our backs” in his State of the Commonwealth speech two weeks ago, Blanton said, “We’re here to tell the coal industry to get off our damn backs!”
She called out the Energy and Environment Cabinet that is charged with monitoring water pollution by mining operations but recently conceded in court it hadn’t been able to perform those duties. “Intentional incompetence by the Energy and Environment Cabinet is poisoning our water,” she said as the crowd roared. Author, essayist, poet and environmental activist Wendell Berry, 76, another of the 14 who slept on the floor of the governor’s outer office over the weekend, also spoke.
“We came here because the land, its forests, and its streams are being destroyed by the surface mining of coal, because people are suffering intolerable harms to their homes, their health, and the communities, and because all the people downstream are threatened by the degradation and contamination of the rivers.”
Four gifted science students from Madison Middle School — Colton Putnam, Morgan Winter, John Powell, and Austin Higginbotham — looked on as the crowd chanted and carried signs that said: “Save Our Mountains, Save Our Water” and “Clean Coal is a Filthy Lie.”
“Mountaintop removal is bad because it’s harming our environment,” said Powell, 13.
“Because it’s our future. What they are doing in the now, that is our future,” chimed in Winter, 14.
Stanley Sturgill of Lynch who lives in the shadow of Black Mountain and opposes strip mining there, addressed an allegation that mining opponents are “outsiders.”
“I’ve mined coal and I’ve breathed coal dust,” Sturgill told the crowd. “And I am not an outsider.” He proclaimed “a citizen’s state of emergency in southeastern Kentucky.”
U.S. Congressman John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, said mountaintop removal “is not working for Kentucky and it is not working for our economy. It is only making our economy and our people sick. The deep pockets of the coal industry have done a good job in keeping the reality of mountaintop removal out of the public eye.” “Yes they will say anything but the truth,” Yarmuth continued. “But we know the truth — that pollution from coal-fired power is pumped into the air we breathe every day.” That the cost of coalmining gets spread across Kentucky in increased health care costs, environmental clean-up and all the costs when the coal companies turn their backs on Kentucky and the people.”
One of the marchers was author Bobbie Ann Mason who marched to the capitol and stood in the windy cold behind the speakers at the podium. It isn’t her first trip to take part in I Love Mountains Day.
“It gets bigger and larger in scope every year,” Mason said. “And apparently the sit-in got national coverage. So it’s growing.”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.