Members ask for strong protections for streams affected by mining

Posted by: KFTC staff on September 24, 2015

Members of KFTC, the Sierra Club, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Appalachian Citizens Law Center, Kentucky Conservation Committee, Appalachian Voices, Kentucky Resources Council and others had a strong presence at a public hearing September 3 to advocate for the strongest possible protections for water in communities where coal is mined and downstream.

More than 25 folks asked the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to keep many of the provisions in the draft Stream Protection Rule. The new rule is an effort “to modernize 30-year-old regulations to reflect current science and technology,” according to the agency.

They also asked OSMRE to restore the Stream Buffer Zone that is done away with in the draft rule. That rule prohibited the impacts of coal mining within 100 feet of a stream or waterway.

Michael Nixon of the Citizens Coal Council called on OSMRE to stand firm on the draft rule “that truly protects our nation’s streams and waters.” He said the agency’s approach should be “preventing damage instead of correcting damage.”

Several speakers made the connection between clean water and good health, noting that the health of many people living near coal operations has been negatively affected.

“Our lives in Appalachia are being shortened,” pointed out Elaine Tanner of Letcher County, noting the “unimaginable damage to our environment” coal companies are leaving behind and the “legacy pollution we face in our future.” She said that coal companies should be held accountable for this damage.

Jimmie Hall, also of Letcher County, said the water supply in his community of Mill Creek had “been destroyed. I don’t know what to say, I just know I’ve been hurt… it’s one of the things that destroyed my way of life.”

Russell Oliver of Hazard asked for “stronger laws and enforcement of those laws. We needs laws to protect the water … when the mining is gone, water will be left.

“Stricter laws should be passed to protect the remaining water so that future generations will not suffer from cancer and other diseases,” Oliver added, noting that cancer rates in eastern Kentucky are already high and have been associated with pollution from mining operations.

“I have witnessed the streams in Harlan County running orange from toxic waste,” added Joanne Golden Hill. She asked OSMRE to strengthen the rule by requiring pollution discharges to be tested at their source rather than downstream, and that “the 100-foot Stream Buffer Zone is essential. Strong stream protections will go a long way to begin repairing the damage done.”

The new draft rule replaces the Stream Buffer Zone rule that required the impacts of coal mining to be kept out of waterways, with a 100-foot buffer zone to help make that possible. Though in place since the early 1980s, that law was not enforced by Republican or Democratic administrations.

The Bush administration did away with the buffer zone in 2008 when Appalachian groups pushed to have it enforced and mountaintop removal was out of control. That action was challenged in court, and the Obama administration pledged to restore the rule after it came into office.

But when the current administration dragged its feet, Appalachian groups along with national environmental organizations pursued the legal action against the weakening of the law done by President Bush. The courts agreed and in February 2014 restored the original 1983 version of the law.

The new draft rule is a major rewrite of the 1977 federal Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). It requires much more in the way of pre- and post-mining water quality monitoring, including selenium and conductivity. It addresses the de-watering of streams that results from subsidence caused by underground mining. It requires mine operators to restore both the hydrologic form and ecological functions of streams disturbed by mining.

But it does away with the buffer zone, meaning that valley fills, responsible for the burying of more than a thousand miles of Kentucky streams, could continue.

“I have worked my entire career with SMCRA [in the industry and as a regulator],” said Davie Ransdell, speaking for KFTC and the Alliance for Appalachia. “In reading the 524 pages of the actual rule, I got excited for the first time in a long time because it reads very much like SMCRA was first intended to be.

“It’s not perfect … the science behind a lot of these changes is a long time coming.”

She and many others again emphasized that a buffer zone needed to be reinstated and strictly enforced.

“I was present at the Rose Garden in 1977 when Jimmy Carter signed the strip mining law. I’m here to plead that the promise of this occasion be finally implemented,” said George Brosi of Berea. “Clean water provides many times more jobs than polluting industries. The stream buffer must be forced with exactly no exceptions.”

The reaction to the draft rule from those involved in or representing the coal industry was not so favorable or generous. Most of the several dozen industry speakers railed against “regulatory overreach” and the lack of industry input into the writing of the rule.

Because of the length of the rule and the thousands of pages of accompanying science and documentation, many asked for an extension of the public comment period that currently is scheduled to end September 25. This also is a tactic to drag out the rule-making process in hopes that there will not be sufficient time to issue a final rule before the change in administrations in the White House.

The rhetoric was most shrill from politicians, led by Attorney General Jack Conway and U.S. Rep. Andy Barr.

Conway said the draft rule would “end mining as we know it,” and called it “an insult to Kentuckians.”

Barr said the draft represented “the efforts of the Obama administration and MSHA [Mine Safety and Health Administration] to ban coal mining in Appalachia … We don’t solve problems through central planning that looks like the Soviet Union.”

A representative of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul went into a tirade that bordered on a verbal assault on the OSMRE representatives listening attentively to each commenter. Sen. Mitch McConnell also sent a representative, and Andy Beshear (candidate for attorney general), Jenean Hampton (candidate for lieutenant governor) and several state legislators all reiterated the coal industry’s talking points.

None of them, however, mentioned water or the goal of protecting streams and the people who live along them or downstream.

More reasoned opposition came from several coal miners who talked about the hardships they and their families have faced from the disruptions in the industry and the loss of employment. Some moved hundreds of miles to find new mining jobs. All were worried about their future and the impact new rules requirements would have on their industry.

Similar worries were shared by those who don’t make their living from coal.

“I’m 19 years old and I’m here because I’m concerned about my future. I’m worried because there are not jobs for me. The coal industry has never looked out for me or my friends,” said Emma Anderson. “The coal jobs are moving out, and no one is doing anything to help the devastated communities left behind. They destroy everything that I love. I think this is a really good step for doing something and gives me hope for my future.”

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KFTC members "All In" during exciting annual meeting

Posted by: KFTC staff on August 25, 2015

EmPower Kentucky panel at 2015 Annual Meeting

KFTC members affirmed once again that we are “all in” for a better Kentucky.

Celebration of Tanya Turner

At the 2015 Annual Membership Meeting August 21-23, members from across Kentucky gathered at General Butler State Park to strategize, envision, share ideas and have fun together.

Happy 34th anniversary, KFTC!

Posted by: KFTC staff on August 17, 2015

 It was 34 years ago today, August 17, 1981, that a group of 26 people from 12 counties meeting in Hazard agreed to officially form a new organization – KFTC, then known as the Kentucky Fair Tax Coalition. 

"People, especially in eastern Kentucky, were getting to know each other. All around the region there was a loose network of people who had worked together with each other in various ways over the past 15 years or so. What we didn't have in those days was a structured connection between us. There was a no interlocking of these community-level efforts, until KFTC."  –  Herb E. Smith, Letcher County

According to the book Making History: The First Ten Years of KFTC:

"We just knew that it made sense to work together across county lines because the problems we faced were similar and needed to be addressed on the state or national level," said Gladys Maynard, who was representing the Concerned Citizens of Martin County and became KFTC's first chairperson.

Sustaining Gifts, when joined together, make a big impact

Posted by: Dana Beasley Brown on August 13, 2015

As KFTC chair, I’ve learned what an impact member gifts make on our ability to do the work every day, especially monthly gifts. Being able to count on that income makes a difference in our ability to respond to issues we’re facing on the ground. We can plan better, do more and get closer to our vision for Kentucky.

In our vision statement, we have some pretty lofty goals, like wiping racism from our laws, habits and hearts. But it takes a long time.

Members reflect on Louisville Governor's Forum

Posted by: Kentuckians For The Commonwealth on July 24, 2015

Members left a gubernatorial forum in Louisville feeling like they didn’t hear much, and nothing that they’d hoped to.

The forum was hosted by non-profits that work with health and family services, a setting ripe for hearing some clear plans about policies to reform Kentucky’s tax code and generate good revenue for our schools, health systems, public protection, and a good quality of life.

Legislators asked to consider safety of pipelines

Posted by: KFTC staff on July 20, 2015

Two legislative committee hearings in July focused on pipeline safety in Kentucky.

On July 16, KFTC member Bob Pekny joined Rep. David Floyd to talk about the Pipeline Safety Bill that was introduced in the 2015 legislative session.

“Kentucky is crisscrossed with pipelines of various sorts, most of them related to energy” Rep. Floyd told the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Tourism. “We believe an increase in precautions would be wise.”

Wilderness Trace hosts third successful Barn Bash

Posted by: KFTC staff on July 10, 2015

Heat and threats of storms didn’t keep about 100 people from coming out to Woodwind Farm in Junction City on June 13th for the third annual Wilderness Trace KFTC Barn Bash. The weather behaved just right for people to enjoy a great afternoon of good music, delicious food, beautiful surroundings, lake swimming, and friendly silent auction bidding, all to benefit KFTC.

Members at the Barn Bash

Thanks to event sponsor, Stuart Powell Ford Lincoln Mazda, the chapter was able to highlight locally sourced foods for the second year in a row. Folks who came hungry were delighted to enjoy sausages from Sunwatch Homestead, hot dogs from St. Catharine Farm, and burgers from Rising Sons Beef. KFTC members filled out the rest of the meal with wonderful side dishes and plenty of desserts.

While folks chowed down on food, they got to hear a little bit from member, Jim Porter, about why he is proud to be a KFTC member.

The minimum wage matters to real people

Posted by: Sarah Martin on July 3, 2015

UPDATE (July 7): The Minimum Wage Ordinance has been recalled from the Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee and is going to the full council! There will be a council discussion session on August 20, 4 p.m. in the council chambers (200 E Main St).

Central Kentucky Chapter members are pushing forward to raise the minimum wage in Lexington, in the face of their city council members tabling the ordinance at the last Budget and Finance Committee hearing on June 23 for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.

So far, it has been a summer of KFTC members and our allies in the Working Families Coalition building momentum by rallying, lobbying, writing op-eds, and giving testimony at hearings, and the chapter has no intention of backing down.

CKY Members and allies are planning to gather this Tuesday evening, July 7, at 6 p.m. at the LFUCG Council meeting to push for the ordinance to be heard by the entire Council in August after a summer recess. 

Two rallies in Lexington have already been organized and carried out by chapter members and our allies this summer, the most recent on June 23 in Phoenix Park prior to the LFUCG Budget, Finance, and Economic Development Committee hearing. After the rally, supporters marched to the Budget and Finance Committee hearing. 

I'll see you on the trail

Posted by: Lisa Abbott on June 30, 2015


Dear friends,

What a week it has been. Like most people I know, I’m over the moon with excitement about decisions by the Supreme Court on marriage, health care and racial justice. I’m grieving the killing of Clementa Pinckney and 8 parishioners at Emanuel AME church in Charleston. And I’m inspired by ongoing local struggles for justice, including the minimum wage campaign in Lexington and the Louisville community’s strong response to an awful and threatening letter from the head of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Lisa and Gihan

This has also been an emotional week for me on a deeply personal level. June 26 was my last day in my role as Organizing Director with Kentuckians For The Commonwealth. My husband, Justin, recently started a great new job as head of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Our family is beginning to make a transition in that direction.

But first, in just a few hours I will board a plane with my 12-year old son, Hollis, and set out on a 250-mile hike starting in Yosemite National Park! Justin and Myles will join us for the second half of that journey. Once we return in August, I’ll continue to work for a time with KFTC on an exciting special project (shaping a people’s response to climate change and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan), even as our family’s home base shifts to the South this fall.

Lisa Abbott

My job transition is happening almost 23 years to the day after I was hired fresh out of college by KFTC. After my job interview, some friends asked me how it went. I answered, “I don’t think I got the job. But if I did, I think I could be there a long time.” I had a hunch that KFTC would be an extraordinary place for me to learn, contribute, and sink my roots. In the decades since, my respect for this organization and its people has only grown.

It won’t surprise any of you to know that I’m sad beyond words to be leaving Kentucky, our community in Berea, and this remarkable organization. But above all I’m left with overwhelming gratitude. Working with KFTC – and with each one of you – has been the greatest honor and blessing of my life. Thank you for all that you have taught me and shared with me. Thank you for your courage, vision, integrity and love. Individually and collectively, you mean the world to me.

Before I set out on my journey, I do have a few basic requests: 

  • Believe in yourselves and take good care of each other. KFTC’s staff and leaders are talented, dedicated and brilliant people. Everything we need is right here. If we lean on each other and support one another, we can bring out our very best.

  • Let’s go get ’em (in a loving and non-violent way). This is a critical time for Kentucky and the nation. The politics of Frankfort and Washington are as corrupt, entrenched, and destructive as ever. And yet people everywhere are in motion. People everywhere are pushing back, disrupting the status quo, and striving to create the kind of community and world we want for ourselves and our children. KFTC has such an important role to play. I know you and we will continue to be relentless, visionary, brave and strategic as we push forward.

  • Let’s continue to invest in KFTC.  Please consider becoming a Sustaining Giver to KFTC, if you aren’t one already, by clicking here. My own family has, for many years, made modest, monthly contributions to support KFTC’s work. We will happily continue to do so. That’s what it takes to sustain organizations we care about. It’s an easy, important way to help build a powerful and diverse movement for justice in Kentucky. I do hope you’ll take this moment to set up a monthly contribution of any size. And thank you.

As I’ve been preparing for our upcoming hike, I’ve found myself repeating one simple phrase: “Step forward. Step forward. Step forward.” I’ll be doing a lot of stepping on the trail during the month of July. I’ll try to remember to keep putting one foot in front of the other as we make our big move this fall. I am confident that KFTC, also, will keep boldly stepping forward as we rise to meet challenges large and small.

Thank you all for your love and support. I could not be more grateful.

I’ll see you on the trail.



Lisa Abbott

Rowan County chapter holds successful community forum on proposed pipeline project

Posted by: Annie Adams on June 26, 2015

The Rowan County KFTC Chapter hosted a community meeting regarding the Kinder Morgan pipeline repurposing proposal on June 23 in Morehead. 

Rowan County chapter member Ted Withrow and the director of the Kentucky Resources Council, Tom FitzGerald, explained the scope of the project and outlined its significant risks. With the help of moderator Sue Tallichet, another Rowan County chapter member, they entertained a number of questions from the sizable audience, which included the county attorney, the judge-executive and many of the property owners directly affected by the repurposing proposal. 

Elizabeth Wooten, early KFTC leader, has passed away

Posted by: KFTC staff on June 24, 2015

Elizabeth Wooten, a KFTC member who helped lead the campaign in the 1980s to do away with the broad form deed, died on Monday. She was 91.

Elizabeth and her family fought for many years to protect their land from the strip mining that was rampant in Perry County. The book Making History: The First Ten Years of KFTC, included the following description:

On December 3, 1983, dozens of KFTC members rallied near Bulan at the farm of Perry County widow Elizabeth Wooten … to express their opposition to broad form deeds and their resolve to fight as long as necessary to end their abuses. The Wooten farm lay like a near island, almost surrounded by oceans of strip-mined land. The family had been fighting in court for months to keep Marandco Coal, holder of a broad form deed, off the property, where Elizabeth’s husband was buried. “Before my husband died, he asked [the family] not to let them come on here and strip mine,” Wooten said. “And we’re going to honor that promise. What kind of people would we be if we didn’t?”

With Wooten among the movement’s leaders, KFTC members helped passed a law in the 1984 General Assembly that outlawed the abuses of the broad form deed (these were deeds signed in the late 1800s / early 1900s that severed the ownership of the minerals under the land from the ownership of the land itself; in the 1950s the Kentucky courts interpreted these deeds to allow the mineral owner to strip mine the land without the permission of the surface land owner, and with no obligation to compensate for the damages done).


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