KFTC members host Gov. Beshear on a tour of eastern Kentucky

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, accompanied by Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Len Peters, met yesterday with residents in eastern Kentucky to see and hear firsthand about the importance of protecting their water, opportunities for community development, and problems associated with mountaintop removal coal mining and valley fills. The tour was hosted by members of KFTC.

The governor's visit made good on an earlier commitment to visit the region and learn about the impact of surface mining on health and water. Floyd County residents Rick Handshoe and Sister Kathleen Weigand took him on a tour of several locations in Floyd County where pollution levels in streams below mine sites are more than three times the allowable standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The governor observed while water quality tests were taken in both a healthy stream and streams degraded by coal mining operations. Handshoe also showed the governor a sediment pond below a valley fill near his home that is contaminated by acid mine drainage.

KFTC Hosts Governor Steve Beshear in eastern KY, April 2011Weigand pointed out to the governor that the streams he visited were a few of thousands that have been impacted by mining throughout the region. "What you're seeing here is just one example of a much larger problem. It's happening all over," she said.

Handshoe added, "Governor, this is a people issue; it's a human rights issue. Our groundwater around here was contaminated by deep mining a long time ago. You just can't allow our surface waters to be destroyed too."

Later that afternoon, Governor Beshear and Secretary Peters attended a meeting hosted by KFTC members in the Harlan County community of Lynch. Residents shared ideas for economic development and a sound future for their area, and asked the governor to block two proposed surface mine permits that now threaten their drinking water and quality of life.KFTC Hosts Governor Steve Beshear in eastern KY, April 2011

"I've lived here all my life," shared Carl Shoupe, a retired third generation coal miner from nearby Benham. "This is a special place with an important history. We have good, pure water that flows out off Black Mountain. With a lot of work by a lot of people, we've built up some fine tourism sites, like the School House Inn and Portal 31 exhibition coal mine. But all of those things could be lost if the state allows these strip mines to go forward."

Stanley Sturgill, a resident of Lynch and retired coal miner and federal mine inspector, thanked the governor for his time and asked him to take a stand. "Will you declare your support for designating key areas around Benham and Lynch as Lands Unsuitable for Mining, and will direct your Energy and Environment Cabinet to revisit and reverse their recent ruling on this matter?" Sturgill asked. The governor responded that his administration would carefully review all permits and "take the concerns we've heard today under consideration."

Governor Beshear later stated, "I'm convinced that if we are smart and enforce our regulations, we can mine coal and protect the environment. It's something we have to balance."

To which Sturgill countered, "Governor, what you saw up there in Floyd County today, would you consider that balanced just right?"

Reflecting on the day, KFTC member Doug Doerrfeld noted, "I'm thankful that Governor Beshear and Secretary Peters came and listened. This is just a first step, and it's good that he agreed to meet with us again soon. There are many issues left to be resolved. The whole conversation needs to go much deeper, and we need to see concrete action."

A summary of actions members of KFTC are asking Governor Beshear to take to begin an economic transition in eastern Kentucky and protect our land, water and people

Support an economic transition to create good, new jobs for our miners and mountain communities.

  • Foster a sincere, public discussion about the opportunity we have to begin an economic transition for coal workers and communities.
  • Support significant new investments in job creation in the mountains, especially in the areas of land and forest restoration, energy efficiency, and renewable energy development.
  • Vigorously support the Clean Energy Opportunity Act (In 2011 this was HB 239)
  • Invest in plans proposed by the city of Lynch and other eastern Kentucky communities to retrofit public buildings, help local residents and businesses save money by saving energy, and develop community-scale renewable energy projects.

Stop the destruction of our land, water and people by fully enforcing existing laws designed to protect our health and communities from destructive mining.

  • Direct the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to withdraw from the lawsuit it joined last October, in which your administration sided with the coal industry against the EPA's efforts to protect our health and water quality.
  • Direct the Kentucky Division of Water to stop using a rubber-stamp process (known as the 402 general coal mining permit) which allows companies to pollute our water with minimal restrictions and without public input about site-specific health and environmental impacts.
  • Publicly support efforts by city leaders and residents of Lynch, Kentucky to prevent proposed mining that threatens their water supply, cultural heritage, economic development investments, and ecological systems.
  • Support proposed federal mine-safety rules that are aimed at eliminating black lung disease and allowing essential enforcement actions to be taken in deep mines that demonstrate a pattern of violations.

Speak honestly and publicly about the real challenges faced by our mountain communities, namely:

  • Call for an end to extreme and violent speech aimed at citizens who are working to protect Kentucky's land, air and water.
  • Acknowledge that surface mining causes unacceptable and widespread harm to our land, water and people;
  • Acknowledge that coal jobs and reserves have entered a period of rapid decline in eastern Kentucky, in large part due to market forces, business trends, and finite resources;
  • Make it clear that it is going to take all of us working together to protect our land, water, and health and transition to a new economy and clean energy future.

Slideshow from the day

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