A group of activists, former coal miners, and legendary environmentalist and author Wendell Berry are staging a sit-in in the office of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D) today, demanding a meeting on the future of mountain-top removal coal mining in the state.
The fight over MTR has been heating up at the national level since last month, when the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed a permit for the controversial Spruce Mine in West Virginia. Both enviros and the coal industry have interpreted that move as evidence that the agency is serious about enforcing existing laws when it comes to MTR.
For coal field residents who have long been outspoken opponents of MTR, it's a moment of opportunity. "I'm about to pull an Egypt," Mickey McCoy, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and former teacher from Inez, Kentucky, told me by phone last night ahead of this morning's action. "I'm just tired of lobbying, begging."
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and other state-level groups filed suit against Kentucky last fall for failing to enforce the Clean Water Act. Kentucky, however, has undertaken quite the opposite crusade: around the same time that the enviros filed their suit, it joined the Kentucky Coal Association in suing the US EPA for attempting to enforce the Clean Water Act.
Jeff Biggers is following today's sit-in, and highlights what is at stake in the state:
While national media attention on mountaintop removal mining has largely been focused on West Virginia, organizers are reminding the nation that more than 290 mountains—58 percent of the devastation in Appalachia—have been blown to bits in eastern Kentucky. A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council last year found that while more than 574,000 acres of hardwood forests in eastern Kentucky have been irreversibly destroyed by mountaintop removal strip mining, less than four percent yielded any verifiable post-mining economic reclamation excluding forestry and pasture.
The protesters have three demands—outside of a chance to actually meet with the governor, that is:
- Accept a long-standing invitation to view the devastation in eastern Kentucky caused by mountaintop removal mining
- Foster a sincere, public discussion about the urgent need for a sustainable economic transition for coal workers and mountain communities
- Withdraw from the October 2010 lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, in which the Beshear administration partnered with the coal industry to oppose the EPA’s efforts to protect the health and water of coalfield residents