Protesters plan rallies Sunday and Monday in Frankfort

lblackford@herald-leader.comFebruary 12, 2011 

Protesters hoping to bring more attention to mountaintop mining in Eastern Kentucky spent a comfortable night in Gov. Steve Beshear's Frankfort office, where they have camped out for the weekend.

"We rested very nicely," Chad Berry of Berea said Saturday. "We were overjoyed by support on Facebook and e-mail. Someone from Florida delivered six pizzas. We are very comfortable and we believe this is history making."

Many of the 14 people brought in blankets from their cars. Supporters brought in pillows, and Kentucky State Police allowed the delivery of pizzas Friday night and coffee Saturday morning.

The protesters — who included high profile authors Wendell Berry and Silas House — met with Beshear on Friday, and said they would stay at the office until they were arrested. But Beshear said they were welcome to occupy his office in the state Capitol through the weekend.

On Monday, there will be an "I Love Mountains" rally at the Capitol.

"We want, of course, to see these abuses of land and people and the water supply stopped," said Wendell Berry, 76, the nationally lauded poet, novelist and essayist, who said he slept well.

"The great thing that has happened is that we have broken through the official silence of state government on these issues."

The protesters said the governor had conceded to two of their requests. First, they said Beshear had agreed to visit some of their homes in Eastern Kentucky that have been damaged by mountaintop mining.

He also agreed that the violent rhetoric that has grown up around the issue must be toned down, they said.

But the governor did not respond to the most substantive request: that he withdraw from a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the Clean Water Act.

On Saturday afternoon, Chad Berry said the group was planning to invite the governor and first lady Jane Beshear to join them for a civil conversation on the matter. The group had received no response Saturday night. They are also planning for supporters to come to a rally at the Capitol at 4 p.m. Sunday.

The group's members — who include Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, former miners, and Eastern Kentucky residents — were trying to express their concerns about mountaintop removal, a type of mining that blasts the tops off of mountains to extract coal. Environmentalists say the mining technique is detrimental to the watershed and causes other serious, long-term problems.

The Beshear administration angered many environmentalists by joining a lawsuit against the EPA over the Clean Water Act.

In his State of the Commonwealth speech on Feb. 1, Beshear told the EPA to "Get off our backs." The line garnered the loudest and longest applause from the 138 members of the legislature.

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