By RONNIE ELLIS — Grammy winning music star Kathy Mattea told about 600 who gathered on the state capitol Thursday in 25 degree cold to protest the mining practice known as mountaintop removal “there is a way to move toward civil discourse” on issues of coal.
Mattea grew up in West Virginia, the granddaughter of coal miners. Her new CD “Coal” pays tribute to “my place and my people.” She told the shivering but enthusiastic crowd Appalachia is “a place I know and it is a place that is part of me.” Thursday she spoke to those who came for the annual “I Love Mountains Day” at the capitol, sponsored by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth as an opportunity to lobby the mostly coal-friendly state legislature and governor.
But Mattea told them both sides need to work together, to lower the heat.
“We are not enemies – we are brothers and sisters in conflict,” Mattea said of those who vigorously defend coal and those – sometimes neighbors of the other side of the argument – who just as vociferously denounce coal, especially the extraction of it through surface mining and mountaintop removal. Not that there was much question of how Mattea views the practice which she said causes her “a deep ache” and which she characterized as “a covert war to decide who holds the power and what are our values.”
But she said it’s clear that war causes “deep harm on both sides of the conflict.” She said the time has come for both sides “to sit still and pen our hearts and feel the shared anguish.” Mattea spoke of miners and their families – “Everyone wants a way to provide for their family” – but also for those whose property, drinking water, and quality of life are damaged by mining – “Everyone wants to feel save where they live.” But, she went on, people living next to strip mines live in a “personal hell” and “black water runs from the faucets.”
“If the prosperity of some is built on the exploitation of others, everyone loses,” Mattea told the crowd.
It wasn’t as confrontational as the event has been in recent years, perhaps because the landscape has changed, according to Tom Fitzgerald of the Natural Resources Council. A recent agreement between major coal companies and the federal government – if fully enacted – will incorporate most of the measures KFTC and other activists have sought through legislation often called “the stream saver bill.” That would restrict mining companies from dumping waste materials over the sides of mountains, burying streams and intermittent streams.
Terri Blanton, a former KFTC Chair who once had to abandon her home because of mine pollution, said that agreement “is just a gentleman’s agreement” at this point.
“Why don’t we just go ahead and make it a law?” she asked.
In previous sessions of the legislation, that’s what Rep. Don Pasley, D-Winchester, tried to do, sponsoring the stream saver bill. It never got out of committees dominated by coal region or sympathetic legislators. He said he didn’t introduce it this year because of the agreement between the federal Environmental Protection Agency and major coal companies.
But Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, who grew up in Appalachia, has introduced the bill in the Senate this time. Speakers Thursday called for its passage. And there were signs among the marchers that showed the agreement hasn’t eased fears and concerns of many. One read: “Clean coal is like dry water;” another said: “Topless mountains are obscene.”
KFTC Chair K.A. Owens called for the election of “leaders who serve the common good and not just the highest bidder. That’s why we are here today.”
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.