MAC: Mines and Communities

US protestors "go to the Mountain top"

Published by MAC on 2011-02-21
Source: Environmental News Service (ENS), Courier Journal (2011-02-14)

And they're not removed!

The state of Kentucky is at the heart of "mountaintop destruction" by coal mining companies in the USA.

Last week, demonstrators took their outrage at the practice to the heart of  Kentucky governor Steve Beshear's administration.

On discovering, unsurprisingly, that Beshears's position was "unacceptable", the protestors refused to vacate his office.

Upon which, the governor said they were welcome to stay "as long as they wanted."

Four days later the activists left - but not before making some cogent points which were well-covered by the US media.

ESPAÑOL

Protesters End Mountaintop Removal Sit-in at Kentucky Governor's Office

Environmental News Service (ENS)

14 February 2011

FRANKFORT, Kentucky - Fourteen mountaintop removal mining protesters emerged Monday from their four-day occupation of the Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear's office to be welcomed by a crowd of over 1,000 people on the steps of the state Capitol.

Mickey McCoy, left, speaks about mining while Martin Mudd, middle, and Beverly May listen as they waited for a meeting, with Gov. Steve Beshear in Frankfort.
Mickey McCoy, left, speaks about mining while Martin Mudd, middle,
and Beverly May listen as they waited for a meeting, with Gov.
Steve Beshear in Frankfort. Photo: By James Crisp, Special to the
Courier-Journal

Author and demonstrator Wendell Berry, a lifelong Kentucky resident, explained, "We came because the land, its forests, and its streams are being destroyed by the surface mining of coal, because the people are suffering intolerable harms to their homes, their health, and their communities."

The protesters - who included a retired coal miner, a nurse practitioner who treats miners, community organizers, a graduate student, and others - had been staying in the office since talks between them and Governor Beshear came to a stalemate on Friday afternoon.

In the meeting, Governor Beshear continued to express his support for both mountaintop removal and the coal industry.

The protesters found his position unacceptable, and refused to vacate his office. When they declined to leave, the governor instructed his security team to inform the protesters that they were welcome to stay "as long as they wanted."

The sit-in, which the protesters dubbed Kentucky Rising, has attracted international attention, with messages of support coming in from Argentina and Germany. Statements of support came from environmentalists such as Bill McKibben, founder of the climate change awareness nonprofit 350.org, and environmental writers Michael Pollan, Naomi Klein, Terry Tempest Williams, and Wes Jackson.

"I can think of no more appropriate action to be taking on Valentine's Day than what Wendell Berry and his fellow Kentuckians are doing: taking a stand from one's heart," said Williams. "Mountaintop removal is an act of aggression. Civil disobedience is an act of love. We are right there with them in solidarity and support."

"People across America today ... are electrified by what's going on in Frankfort," McKibben said. "It's about time that people said: 'No more business as usual, if that means leveling the mountains of southern Appalachia.'"

Governor Beshear, who is running for reelection this year, met one of the protesters demands with his pledge Monday to travel to eastern Kentucky within 30 days and personally inspect damage caused by mountaintop removal.

Mountaintop removal mining targets coal seams buried deep below the surface. The removal operations begin when coal companies clear forests and set the woody biomass ablaze. The mountaintops are blasted apart with explosives. Machines called draglines, some the size of a city block, the unwanted rock and dirt into nearby streams and valleys, burying the waterways.

In the past few decades, more than 2,000 miles of streams and headwaters that provide drinking water for millions of Americans have been permanently buried. An area the size of Delaware has been flattened. In Kentucky alone, more than 290 mountains have been destroyed by this form of surface coal mining.

People who live near mountaintop removal mining operations say their homes, properties, streams, mountains, and in some cases, their health have been threatened or destroyed.

But some Appalachian landowners welcome mountaintop removal mining. Kentuckian Dave Maggard owns 40 forty acres on which some mountaintop removal mining is being done. "The land is so steep, I cannot build any kind of structure without this method of mining. I do not in any way appreciate any protester coming to Frankfort and trying to dictate to the governor what should occur on my privately owned land that I pay tax on."

Maggard said in a comment on the website of NBC-TV affiliate Lex18.com in Lexington, Kentucky, "These protesters are mostly made up of outsiders who own no land and therefore have no dog in the mountaintop removal fight that is strictly between legitimate land owners like myself and the mining companies."


Wendell Berry, others, talk coal with governor

By James Bruggers

Courier Journal

11 February 2011

Kentucky author and poet Wendell Berry and a group of environmentalists will be spending the weekend inside the state Capitol after staging an impromptu meeting with Gov. Steve Beshear.

Berry and more than a dozen activists demanded an end to coal mining practices that destroy eastern Kentucky mountains.

After 45 minutes of give-and-take with the governor in the early afternoon, Berry and activist Teri Blanton, a former chair of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, told Beshear they did not intend to leave.

"Whatever happens has to happen," Blanton said.

Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said the activists would be allowed to remain in the public areas of the building over the weekend, including the reception area of the governor's office.

Jason Howard, a spokesman for the group, said 14 people including Berry, 76, decided to stay.

Monday is I Love Mountains Day in Frankfort, an annual event that features a march, speeches and other activities in support of stream-saving legislation that has failed to gain any traction among Kentucky lawmakers the last six years. The march begins at 11 a.m., with a rally planned for the Capitol steps at 12:15 p.m.

In his discussion with the environmentalists on Friday, Beshear accepted an invitation to visit areas in eastern Kentucky that have been affected by mining practices that blow the tops and sides off mountains to get at underground coal. But he also defended strip mining.

"I do think surface mining can be done in a responsible way," Beshear told the group. They had jammed into the outer reception area of the governor's office with reporters and members of the governor's staff.

Berry said the group feels the governor and state legislators have not acknowledged the grievances about mining that they have brought to officials in past years. "Instead, and far to the contrary, the government has publically identified with the coal companies, and has undertaken, with public funds, to support their interests in a court of law.
"We are here to say, as citizens and as taxpayers, that is not acceptable."

The activists cited as a problem the legal action taken last fall by the Beshear administration and the coal industry against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over EPA's tightening of Clean Water Act rules.

Mickey McCoy, a former mayor of Inez, said he was upset that the state would go against a federal agency that was trying to protect eastern Kentucky families from mining pollution. The state has identified hundreds of miles of eastern Kentucky streams as failing to meet federal water quality standards, with mining a suspected cause.

Beshear said new EPA regulations had become "arbitrary and unreasonable. I am hopeful we can work out a process with them" to mine coal and protect the environment, he said.

But Blanton insisted that the EPA was finally enforcing the law.

She objected as inflammatory some of the governor's language in his address to lawmakers on Feb. 1, when Beshear asserted that the state's manufacturing sector was threatened by the EPA regulation of coal, then added: "To them I say, 'Get off our backs! Get off our backs!'"

Beshear said all sides should be civil in their discourse and that he was "sorry that you took my comments the way you did."

As evening descended on the Capitol, members of the group brought in sleeping bags, pillows and sacks of groceries and were clustered in the reception area outside the governor's office.

"We'll just be hanging out," said Beverly May, of Floyd County. "We'll be chit-chatting, reading books."

Berry had a copy of Shakespeare's The Tempest tucked in his jacket and said he was looking forward to the weekend.

"This is going to be luxurious and the company's not half bad either," Berry said.
The group said it will stream portions of the weekend at the Capitol on its website, www.kftc.org.

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