Upon our arrival, we definitely stood out. I wondered if we exuded “tree hugger,” but it’s more likely that the “I Love Mountains” buttons gave us away. While no one approached us directly to ask what we were doing there or to start an argument, the rally cries and fire-and-brimstone speeches in the background gave me pause. On the other hand, my fellow AppVoicers seemed comfortable, even delighted, to approach people participating in the coal rally and engage in dialogue.
The June 4th U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hearings were held at the Eastern Kentucky Expo in Pikeville, a massive stadium that seats 7,000. Individuals gathered to voice their opinions on the EPA’s denial of 36 mine permits because of water quality issues. Following the hearing, the EPA will be receiving comments until June 21st.
While things seemed relatively calm during the rally outside, within the Expo things turned nasty. None of the jeering was too off-putting, but the feeling of tension and the combative tone pro-coal individuals took with EPA officials and environmentalists made everyone in our small group uneasy.
Four members of Appalachian Voices spoke at the hearing, Eric Chance, Erin Savage, Matt Wasson, and myself. We talked about Kentucky’s troubled history of failing to enforce clean water protections, and agreed with the EPA that the permits in question lacked appropriate scientific data and safeguards to protect watersheds. We also commented on the devastating health impacts from water pollution caused by mountaintop removal coal mining, and countered coal industry propaganda with data about the recent rise in the region’s coal employment. A member of the Sierra Club, Alex DeShay, also spoke, and we all received very vocal disapproval from the crowd. I wondered if we were in a precarious situation by being the only people who were openly supportive of the EPA’s initiatives.
This is not the Eastern Kentucky I know. (more…)