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I Love Mountains Rally Tops off Weekend Capitol Sit-In

February 15, 2011

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Fourteen protesters camped out at Gov. Steve Beshear's office last weekend in a three-night sleepover protesting the practice of mountaintop removal. Hundreds more joined them Monday on the State Capitol steps for what's dubbed the "I Love Mountains" rally.

With chants including "Save our water" and "Old King Coal has got to go," the protesters demanded an end to the method of surface mining that environmentalists claim has buried more than 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams.

Slias House, a Kentucky author and playwright, says mountaintop removal is doing more than ruining the region's air and water.

"The bigger issue, I think, is that it's killing a culture. It's changing a people's way of life. We identify as mountain people, and when those are taken away, what do we have left?"

Grassroots activist Teri Blanton was among those who hunkered down for the weekend slumber party at Beshear's office. She's angered over politicians' rhetoric blasting the EPA for clamping down on the coal industry, and says the governor is way off track in protecting those she calls the polluters.

"Well, you know, the EPA is the Environmental Protection Agency, and he should be asking them for help. And he should be protecting the protectors, rather than pressuring the protectors."

Patty Wallace of Louisa, Ky., believes eastern Kentucky will be left in the dust if policymakers keep resisting a move toward sustainable green-energy jobs.

"We've got to save our mountains. And we're not here against coal mining as mining. We're for the miners, but we've got to start changing our jobs now, go to alternative energies, and it's obvious. "

Talks between the protesters and the governor came to a stalemate Friday afternoon. In House's eyes, protecting jobs and saving the environment are not the clashing interests some may think.

"We believe that you can have jobs, but also respect the land. You can have jobs that are responsible and respectful, and mountaintop removal is not. It's not respectful to the land or to the people."

Concerned citizens, church groups and activists also want Beshear to withdraw a lawsuit he filed against the EPA over what he called "arbitrary and unreasonable regulations" on the coal industry. U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., who attended Monday's rally, is co-sponsor of the Clean Water Protection Act, which he says would effectively end mountaintop removal.

Renee Shaw/Deb Courson, Public News Service - KY