Winds of Change Newsletter,
December 2005 See sidebar for table of contents
Mining 'is turning Eastern Kentucky into a
despicable latrine' (excerpts)
Nov. 9 editorial in
The Louisville Courier-Journal by Barry Bingham Jr.
On Oct. 20 and 21, a group of writers visited Eastern Kentucky under
the aegis of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. The goal of the trip
was to expose us to a form of coal mining known as "mountaintop
..In the 1970s and '80s the strip mines that I, and other editors of The
Courier-Journal, observed were frequently no larger than 50 or 100
acres. A mine we saw on the last trip was 7,000 acres near Hazard, Ky.
One must see it from the air to appreciate the scope of destruction that
has been wrought.
Mountaintop removal mining is turning Eastern Kentucky into a
despicable latrine, cluttered with the offal of the industry. Rotting
vegetation, mud and rocks clog the streams and rivers. Wells and streams
that once ran pure are too polluted for human use and are dead to
And the devastation of the land is not the only scar left by this
industry. The destruction of tranquility that accompanies their
enterprise destroys communities and the people who live near the areas
that are being mined and have been mined. People's homes are wrecked by
"fly rock" from the blasting at the mines and can also be destroyed by
mudslides resulting from the "valley fill" technique of pushing earth
and rock from mountaintops into surrounding coves
Part of the lame justification for this destruction is that it leaves
flat land for development. With the population of the Eastern Kentucky
mountains declining, there is insufficient demand for this land and only
a tiny fraction of it has ever been developed. That which is developed
risks being destroyed by subsidence when underground mines, deeper in
the mountain, collapse
What shall we say to our children and grandchildren when they see
hundreds of miles of bereft, tabletop mountains, which will be the
heritage of Eastern Kentucky? Will it be sufficient to say, "We needed
the coal so we destroyed the land and the people?"
A wiser generation might tell us to sequester the coal resource until it
can be recovered without the pervasive destruction of the mountaintop
removal technique of mining. But greed is no stranger to the extractive
industries of the world. Only an uprising of concerned citizens
stands a chance of bringing this rapacious industry to heel.
Kentucky Author's Tour, Oct. 20, 2005
by Tonya Adkins
The sun was just rising as I drove down Rt. 23 on my way to join a group
of writers and activists taking part in the author's tour of mountaintop
removal hosted by Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC). As I
approached Hyden, I was shocked at the blatant expanse of mountaintop
removal mining, spanning miles on both sides of the highway. Next to one
of these sites, I passed a crew of county workers picking up trash. I
wondered at the irony of tax dollars being spent to "beautify" the
highway by removing trash, while vast piles of rubble and the
irreversible destruction caused by mountaintop removal mining loomed on
At Hyden, I met up with the caravan, and followed them up a narrow
gravel road to Daymon Morgan's farm. Daymon, in his bibbed overalls and
white cowboy hat, led the procession up the holler behind his house to a
point where the rented vans could no longer navigate the road. We hiked
about a half-mile through the woods, then gathered to listen to Damon
talk about his love of those woods and the time he spent there with his
dog, Lobo. His intimate knowledge of the place was evident as he pointed
out wild ginger and Indian arrowwood, and told how the honey bees
swarmed the linden trees.
Back at Daymon's house, he showed us the clear-cutting that marks the
encroaching mountaintop removal surrounding his property. We drove down
the road about a mile, to a "reclaimed" site, then got within a few
hundred yards of bulldozers shoving rubble into a valley fill on an
active site. After spending the morning in a thriving forest ecosystem,
the contrast was heartbreaking.
That evening, several local residents came to the Hindman Settlement
School to talk to the authors about how mountaintop removal is
devastating their lives. I kept thinking how their stories are the same
ones being told all over the Appalachian coalfields - loss of place,
history, people and peace.
Carroll Smith, a judge in Letcher County, told my favorite story of the
night. He said that his kids had some friends over and they were
discussing various candidates in an upcoming election. One young man
said, "You can't vote for him. He's an environmentalist." At that point,
Smith's daughter said, "There are only two kinds of people in the world
- environmentalists and fools." Someone from the crowd called out and
asked Mr. Smith how he kept winning elections himself when he was so
outspoken against the coal industry. He replied, "Big Coal's just got so
many votes and the people have got the rest."
This event was the second writer's tour hosted by KFTC. The seventeen
authors included Wendell Berry, Ron Eller, Jordan Fisher Smith, and
Janisse Ray. Writers who attended the first tour in April have published
a book, Missing Mountains: We went to the mountaintop but it wasn't
there, which was inspired by their experiences. You can purchase the
book online at the KFTC website (www.kftc.org),
or contact the OVEC office, 304-522-0246, to pick up a copy for $16.
Friends of the Mountains has contacted several West Virginia authors who
have expressed an interest in conducting similar tours here. If you are
an author who would like to participate, contact Vivian at the OVEC
office or email@example.com. .