June 6, 2012

From Kentucky to DC: Stop Mountaintop Removal

From Guest Blogger Harrison Kirby of Louisville, KY

“We aren’t evil, I promise,” said the evil congressman’s intern after he said he couldn’t help stop mountaintop removal coal mining. If you ever become a congressional intern and you find yourself in a situation where you must clarify that you are not in fact a villain, you are probably doing something wrong. If that terrible offense is mountaintop removal mining, you are definitely wrong.

To right that wrong is why I am lobbying in Washington DC during the Alliance for Appalachia’s Week in Washington. My name is Harrison Kirby, and I live in Louisville, Kentucky. I work on climate issues, for example by helping plan the iMatter March in Louisville with a teen-led youth group called OurEarthNow. We continually take action in the face of massive—and accelerating—destruction of our planet’s climate. But the issue which I care the most about, the one which I believe is the most viscous, terrible, and obviously wrong is mountaintop removal mining. I work with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth to create a movement to end mountaintop removal mining and transition to a just economy. I realize that Eastern Kentucky might not count as my house because I live in the city, but I do live in Kentucky, and seeing a mountaintop removal site makes me and so many other people say “I claim this land, and my land is being destroyed.”
The arguments against mountaintop removal have been laid out plainly—it increases poverty, cancer and birth defect rates among the people nearby—but lobbying involves a bit of tact to get an intern on board with The Clean Water Protection Act. (We rarely get to speak to the actual congressperson.) This bill, H.R. 1375, would restore the Clean Water Act to its original intent. Basically, it says that you cannot fill streams with waste. This would end the process of mountaintop removal. Currently, the bill only has 124 cosponsors, so there is plenty of progress to be made amongst the 435 congress people—and we have over 100 people here to lobby. You can call in to support us here.

These representatives came to DC from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, where mountaintop removal actually takes place, as well as from 26 other states as distant as California, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire. We lobbied yesterday and today. Our labels range from “concerned citizen” to “constituent” and “mountaintop removal victim.” Our presence here has shown that this is an issue which is not going away. Some interns are trained to sit, listen, and then respond with a zombie-like moaning of the phrase, “I’ll take this to the congress person.” Fortunately, most are not and genuinely respond to our demands.

The interns of the congresspeople have shown a remarkable amount of solidarity with the victims of mountaintop removal sites. An intern from Ohio told me about how he has experienced the same destructive force because of fracking, while a well-bearded fellow from Minnesota explained how he supported me because he has seen the damage from sulfide mines near his own community back home. Every person still requires a bit of convincing, but we’ve already gotten a few more cosponsors this week. The only unresponsive interns to whom I’ve talked are from Kentucky, where our politics are bought and paid for by the coal industry.

There, coal may be king, and money may speak louder than people, but on a national level, there is concern and desire for change. As a “city-folk,” I’m usually the person helping coal-field residents fight the industry. But here, I’m one of the people moved to tears by national support for the protection of my own state’s land. If there is one thing to know about mountaintop removal mining, then it is simply “what you do to the land, you do to the people.”

And as a much stronger man than me said , if you support mountaintop removal, then you are evil.