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Kentucky Celebrates I Love Mountains Day, Demands End to Mountaintop Removal Mining

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Children and grandparents, young professionals and college students, moms and miners all marched together for I Love Mountains Day in Frankfort, Kentucky.  They carried American flags, valentines for the governor and every kind of banner imaginable.  Under a blue sky on February 14, they steadily made their way  from the Kentucky River, up Capitol Avenue.  Some participants had marched in the preceding days with Footprints for Peace all the way from Prestonburg, 140 miles away.

Kentucky schoolchildren met the marchers with handmade signs on the state capitol steps.  Signs for faith-based groups like Interfaith Power and Light were just as visible as a banner for  John Muir’s Sierra Club.  Women who’d attended before said this might be the best turnout they’d seen yet, estimated at well over a thousand people.  The capitol dome loomed above the crowd.

“Like our ancestors we believe these mountains were put here to give us life,” remarked Chairperson Suzanne Tallichet of event organizer Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.  “And we just want what all people need to survive.”  She named simple things like clean water.  “…the chance to raise our kids in a healthy, hopeful place.” KFTC has been training Kentucky residents to test their own drinking water, with suspected contamination being caused in recent years by mountaintop removal mining.  I Love Mountains Day draws attention to the need to end MTR and move toward a cleaner energy future.  MTR destroys the landscape and ecosystem by blasting the tops off mountains to extract seams of coal, hundreds of mountains destroyed in Kentucky alone.  It requireds a fraction of the laborers used in underground mining.  Health concerns include air and water quality, as well as higher rates of cancer and birth defects as shown by studies in Appalachian areas where MTR is done.  Current law allows MTR followed by cosmetic land restoration, yet this falls short according to many environmental groups.

Keynote speaker, author Silas House addresses the crowd

Father of two and popular author Silas House served as keynote speaker for the event.  “I’m proud to say that I’m a hillbilly because I believe that word is about empowerment and not shame,” shared House in his authentic Eastern Kentucky accent, “…we can’t have hillbillies without hills.”  Speaking in the richly layered meanings of a Southern novelist, House noted that Appalachia is a microcosm of our nation that struggles with a crisis of conscience.  “I for one am ready for new power,” he said earnestly, and he rallied the crowd to its crescendo with his calls, “let’s clean this house!”  In addition to his novels and plays, House co-authored with Jason Howard a book of testimonies of mountaintop removal mining in 2011 called Something’s Rising.  He currently serves as National Endowment for the Humanities Chair for Appalachian Studies at Berea College.

12-year-old KFTC essay winner Ella Corder of Somerset read to the crowd what she’d written about MTR in her own words.  Corder pointed out that Kentucky has lost more mountains to MTR than any Appalachian state.  And she inspired students young and old, “Now we need to make a stand for our mountains.”

It had been less than a week since grandfather Carl Shoupe had a heart catheterization, but he was determined to speak to the crowd.  The Vietnam Veteran and 3rd generation underground coal miner wants to preserve Eastern Kentucky’s mountain culture and life for his eight grandchildren.  “I believe as young and older people, all of us can create new jobs and have clean energy and we can live in healthy communities.  But to have that future we must stop the destruction that’s going on in Eastern Kentucky.”

University of Kentucky law student Will Emmons attended the I Love Mountains rally because he’s concerned about the social justice issues like health.  “It’s just ridiculous to me that in the 21st century we have this region where we can’t provide every child a clean glass of water.”  UK environmental science student Taylor Howlett was encouraged by the enthusiastically large turnout, yet realistic about the difficult challenges ahead.  “It’s frustrating, but we just have to keep on working, because the alternative is too bad to imagine.”

Mother and activist Teri Blanton spoke only briefly to the crowd, introducing the keynote speaker.  She made sure to stress, “we’re friends of mountains and miners.”  Blanton, a former KFTC president, was involved in last summer’s sit-in at Representative Hal Rogers’ office in Washington, where Rogers was notably unavailable to meet with his constituents from Kentucky about MTR concerns.  Flour Sack Mama contacted both Rogers’ office and Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s office for responses to this year’s I Love Mountains rally.  

It’s fitting that Valentine’s Day has become I Love Mountains Day for so many Kentuckians.  Their stories of love, loss and hope are as numerous as the mountain peaks used to be.  House shared that he’s the grandson of a miner who was injured on the job then retrained himself  for success as a farmer and craftsman.  House supports retraining for out-of-work miners, many who lost their jobs when MTR replaced underground mining.  He’s also deeply concerned about the health-related issues like water quality.  Like the characters in House’s novel Coal Tattoo, Kentuckians have long dealt with these issues neighbor versus neighbor, especially when local jobs were at stake.  Now, they face fewer mining jobs, more poverty, and looming questions of how much longer a region can allow itself to be destroyed to produce cheap energy.  The novelist spoke with a passion for the land he loves, “They have no idea that the harder they push us, the stronger we become, an undefeatable spirit like the mountains themselves.”

…more encouraging words for fellow Kentuckians from beloved author Silas House
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