Dozens rally outside Kentucky Capitol to support environmentalists in Beshear's office

Groups oppose mountaintop removal

shopkins@herald-leader.comFebruary 14, 2011 

People gathered at the Capitol on Sunday for a rally against mountaintop removal in Eastern Kentucky and to support the group that has been staying in the governor's office since Friday.

FRANKFORT — Cheers erupted from a crowd gathered on the steps of the Capitol on Sunday as environmentalists who have been camped out in Gov. Steve Beshear's office since Friday held signs and gave thumbs up from the windows.

"Let's cheer loud enough that they can hear us," yelled one person.

On Friday, a group of 14 people, including Kentucky author Wendell Berry, settled into the governor's office for a sit-in to protest mountaintop-removal mining in Eastern Kentucky. Supporters of their cause gathered outside the Capitol for a rally Sunday afternoon.

The group inside the Capitol, which calls itself Kentucky Rising, could not leave the building because they would not have been allowed to return.

They plan to stay in Beshear's outer office at least until Monday's "I Love Mountains" rally, when hundreds are expected to show their support for long-stalled legislation designed to stop coal operators from burying creeks and streams with mine waste.

Teri Blanton, a Harlan County native, said the group might stay longer.

"We're still working on that," Blanton said. "You know, the governor did say we could stay as long as we wanted."

In a telephone interview, Blanton said so much food was donated to those inside the Capitol that they called for representatives of area shelters to pick some of it up. El Rancho, a Mexican restaurant in Lexington, donated dinner, she said.

Sam Avery, a member of the activist group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said plans for the rally outside the Capitol started Saturday morning.

The crowd of several dozen, some holding flags and signs that read "Save the Mountains," turned away from the Capitol at Avery's request and looked toward the rolling landscape and trees.

"It's been given to us," Avery said of the landscape. "It's been trusted to us. And mountaintop removal is a systematic, deliberate destruction of what you're looking at right now."

Mountaintop removal is a type of mining that blasts the tops off of mountains to extract coal. Environmentalists say it harms the watershed and causes other long-term problems.

The governor has agreed to a request from protestors to visit homes in Eastern Kentucky that have been damaged by mountaintop mining but has declined the protesters request to withdraw from a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the Clean Water Act.

Margaret Stewart, a volunteer from Louisville, spoke at the rally about land that cannot speak for itself and demanded clean water. She carried hearts that were signed by protestors outside the Capitol and a sign that expressed appreciation for those inside.

At a side door to the Capitol, the message "we love you" was written with a black marker on a piece of notebook paper and held in a window by Stanley Sturgill, a retired miner from Lynch.

"Sorry we can't come out," the note said.

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