Several members of the Kentucky House Appropriations Committee listened to testimony and were given a firsthand look at the burying of headwater streams and mountaintop removal mining Monday during a tour of an Eastern Kentucky coalfield hosted by the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.
The group gathered at the Wendell H. Ford airport in Chavies where they heard from several members of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), a community action group opposing mountaintop removal.
Even though coal produces over 90 percent of Kentucky's electricity, State Chair of the KFTC Doug Doerrfield said, "It is not necessary to destroy the mountains and streams to get that coal."
He told the members of the Kentucky House Appropriations and Revenue Committee in attendance, "Mountain top removal and valley fills are not the only way to mine. Mountaintop removal is a choice that you as state law makers make."
The grassroots citizens organization say that they also support the Stream Savor Bill, which Representative Don Pasley of the 73rd House District announced yesterday that he would sponsor again in 2008. They say that the Stream Savor Bill would protect the waterways by prohibiting the dumping of mine wastes into any intermittent, perennial, or ephemeral stream or other water of the Commonwealth. Instead they say that as part of the reclamation process the mine wastes would be put back on the mine site rather than being dumped over the side of the hill into the streams and valleys below.
"The language in the bill prohibits fills and streams. These ephemeral streams aren't streams with water, fish, and minnows. The streams being impacted are dry ditches that only have water in them when it rains," President of the Kentucky Coal Association, Bill Caylor said. "You can't surface mine or underground mine without left over material. Once we’re finished we reconstruct the stream so water still flows from point A to point B. They allege that the stream is buried forever. That is not true, water still flows."
If interpreted literally, the legislation would prohibit both surface and underground mining, Caylor said.
"It's [mountaintop removal] everything that is wrong with modern society," Kentucky author Silas House said. "Kentuckians are not sacrificial lambs any more. We have elected officials who will stand up and do the right thing."
House, who says that his family was able to rise out of poverty due to coal mining, has been actively involved in the fight against mountaintop removal for three years.
He said that he was raised across the road from a sprawling strip mine and put up with the dust, blasting, and overloaded coal trucks for three years.
"When the company pulled out they scattered some grass seed that never took and planted a few scrub pines and left. Twenty years later the land is still struggling. Some of it is still dead," he said.
Caylor admitted that the coal industry is not perfect, but said that he didn't know of any industry that was.
"When mining it could be considered a nuisance because of the noise and dust. Maybe we need to do more in terms of public relations and community activities at times," he said.
The group also traveled to Montgomery Creek in Vicco where they saw a valley fill and heard John Roark, a resident from the area, tell about some of his experiences and how he says he has been affected by mountaintop removal.
"They are taking advantage of Eastern Kentuckians. Everywhere they go they do damage. I have damage on my home," he said. "We have laws, but no enforcement."
Law enforcement was also a common theme among those who gave their testimonies of how they had been affected by strip mining and mountaintop removal during the final stop on the tour at the Kodak Church of God. Many told stories of how they had damage to their homes and had lost their water due to blasting from the mines. There were also stories about poisoned water and how young children were scared by the loud blasting or couldn't go outside to play because of the danger of being hit by a fly rock from one of the blasts.
"The problem is we don't have enforcement of the laws. We can't get help from the state. When they come out they are just there to prove that it's not mine related," Hueysville resident, Ricky Handshoe said.
Representative Charles Siler from the 82nd House District said that he had mixed feelings about the subject of mountaintop removal and the only way to solve the problem is with a compromise.
"A compromise has to be sought in order for Kentucky to move forward in the area of energy. We need to preserve those mountains that don't need to be bothered. We need to restore those mountains that can be restored properly and we have to contend with the fact that some mountains are going to have to come down," he said. "You couldn't have this airport here if somebody hadn't taken the top off of this ridge. There are practical points of view on both sides of this issue."
Caylor, who was discouraged by the fact that the other side's viewpoint wasn't afforded during Monday's tour, thinks that due to the flat land being provided today, Hazard is going to be the economic hub of Appalachia within the next 200 years.
"We're already starting to see economic diversity in the Hazard area because we're able to use the level land. The land is much more valuable after it is reclaimed than prior to mining," Caylor said.
He went on to say, "To shut down an entire industry on emotional allegations is irreprehensable. To paint our industry with such a wide brush is not fair. The coal industry is the back bone of the economy around the Hazard area and we're starting to see the pay back from that."